Fighting Colonialism Through Cinema
Weathered in the darkness of Portuguese hegemony stands Guinea-Bissau, plunging its traumatized self in music. João Viana’s monochromatic portrayal of this land - ‘Battle of Tabato’ - speaks to you in multiple levels, while unraveling the sheer ordeal of colonialism through stunning imagery. The principal characters of ‘Battle of Tabato’ - Baio, Fatu and Idrissa - ward off the demons of their war-ridden past with quintessential tribal music that reaches straight to your soul. João says his film is an elegy to those who have lost their identity to the clutches of colonialism. “I have witnessed the anguish and despair caused by colonization from a very young age. My land was a Portugal colony until I was 8-years-old. One would think an eight-year-old wouldn’t understand much but that is not true at all. The children are really smart and they can easily identify whatever is happening around them is bad,” says João. João who has both Portugal and Angolan nationalities, says he is an out-and-out Angolan. “Many say Portugal colonies are treated well. But that is a myth. There is no minor or major way about it, there is only colonialism. People of my land lost their identity, their culture, civilization to another country and that is never good. So, I like to call myself an Angolan,” says a passionate João.
João was only sever-years-old when he had his first cinematic experience. The lights and images frolicking around the pitch-black cinema hall took his breath away and he decided his future at that very moment. “I didn’t want to do anything else but make one of those. Cinema is quite fascinating isn’t it. If it could affect a small boy like that by using just lights and images, imagine how powerful the medium is,” he says.
But convincing his father became a never ending combat. At his father’s insistence, João had to take up law in his university. “Once I completed the course he asked me to start practicing. But I told him ‘see I did a course just because you told me to albeit my passion for cinema has not dried out yet’ and I went my way to direct my first film,” says João with a smile.
When other filmmakers sifted through ideas for their debut venture, João didn’t have look elsewhere for stories. His resolve was to make vociferous renditions, that act as strong weapons against the evils of colonialism. ‘Battle of Tabato’ serves that purpose beautifully. But materialising it was not that easy. The film which took five years to make, faced many challenges during its production.
“Once about 109 of us were crossing the river on a boat with all the equipment on board and it sank, drenching everything. We lost all the equipment in that incident. Accumulating all of it again was a humongous task. There were many such incidents. But the film was my baby so I wanted to make it perfect so we put all of our heart and soul into it,” says João. Clinching plaudits from Berlin and other renowned festivals, the film will abide its journey over to Madurai, and will have a winsome ending at New York festival.
“Battle of Tabato are taken in two parts. One is the feature film and there is another one which has a relative theme, but is much shorter. It’s named ‘Tabato’. Both of them garnered prizes in Berlin,” he says. Overwhelmed by the response he received from the city João says Indian and French audience are the best cine-lovers in the world. João’s next will be a love story against the backdrop of a small town near Madagascar.