A sharp-edged, magical-realist journey into Zambian society seen through the eyes of a young orphan girl.
A startling movie, ‘I Am Not a Witch’ is many things. It’s a magic realist fable set in present-day Zambia that has plenty to say about gender and superstition. It’s also a satire, a tragedy and a comedy. And, impressively, debut writer-director Rungano Nyoni makes this heady mix work.
Newcomer Maggie Mulubwa stars as eight-year-old orphan Shula, who is randomly accused of witchcraft and forced to join a travelling witch show. She’s mistreated yet revered: her ‘powers’ are called upon to pick felons out of line-ups. There’s a Kafkaesque flavour as Nyoni explores these contradictions and pokes fun at absurd bureaucrats. Chief comic figure – and villain – is Mr Banda (Henry BJ Phiri), a public official who exploits Shula for profit. We meet him lying in his bath, being soaped down by his female companion and talking on the phone to a police officer about a ‘new witch in town’. This is an ugly patriarch lazily using women for his own ends – and there are Mr Bandas still out there: the Zambian-born, Welsh-raised Nyoni stayed in real-life ‘witch camps’ as part of her research.
Some scenes outstay their welcome, and the film is no easy piece of exotica: Western tourists are implicitly culpable in this story. But that just makes it all the more compelling.
Cast and crew
Henry BJ Phiri
Average User Rating
4 / 5
- 5 star:0
- 4 star:1
- 3 star:0
- 2 star:0
- 1 star:0
This built into an ingenious low-budget film bursting with ideas and a clever (and often funny) look at the position of forthright women challenging and being cast ourt from the status quo and egotistical crooked politicians seeking to use them for various ends like quack justice, tourism and scapegoats. It was a worthy winner of the Best First Feature prize at the LFF. It deserves to be much more widely seen.