Following a banal incident in her local village, 8-year old girl Shula is accused of witchcraft. After a short trial she is found guilty, taken into state custody and exiled to a witch camp. At the camp she takes part in an initiation ceremony where she is shown the rules surrounding her new life as a witch. Like the other residents, Shula is tied to a ribbon which is attached to a coil that perches on a large truck. She is told that should she ever cut the ribbon, she'll be cursed and transformed into a goat.
I was profoundly moved by I Am Not a Witch. Many members of the cast are in their first film feature, and all are stellar, especially Maggie Mulubwa, who plays Shula. Her face is so expressive. Director and writer, Rungano Nyoni, transported me to a place I'd never been. It's rural Zambia. It's modern day (I won't ever forget that the first time we see little Shula, she has a t-shirt that says #bootycall). Yet, it's a cultural phenomenon that I don't know much about, witch camps.
Despite the dire subject matter, there are comic moments. Many times that I wanted to laugh, though, I also wanted to cry, because the circumstances were ridiculous to me, and Shula is caught up in a world where she apparently has no control, no say in her own life. She's asked to resolve disputes, judge others, alter weather patterns, even be on display, when all she really wants is to be a 9 year old, go to school, be nurtured. In the end, we see parallels to other, more familiar, stories. It's haunting.
Cinematography by David Gallego and Art Direction by Malin Lindholm are perfection. The images will stay with you.
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