iREP 2017 Film Review: Spell Reel
Filipa César’s Spell Reel is the result of a multifaceted research and digitisation project that she initiated in 2011 with Sana na N’Hada and Flora Gomes. The documentary covers a phase of militant filmmaking in Guinea-Bissau that documented the period from the struggle for independence (1963-1974) to the socialist period post-decolonization (1974-1980).
The 97-minute documentary is a blend of a moving essay, and a multi-screen installation that puts all the different elements of the project in relation within the confines of the film screen. Perhaps it is best described as a journey where viewers are taken through the history of the country.
Filipa César uses the film surface like a working table. Here all the elements are exposed and the possible relations between them are laid bare by the very act of researching and delving into the materials much like the tangled offshoots of the mangroves, a prevalent shrub in the country’s capital that appears recurrently throughout the film in lengthy travelling shots.
By means of multiple frames, voices, timelines and textual notations, César produces the images that shed light on the history of Guinea-Bissau, her struggle for independence as well as the growth of cinema and filmmaking, and the contingencies of archiving the moving image in the tropics; all intercut with the untold stories of international (cinematographic) relations.
At various points during the documentary, Sana na N’Hada narrates with images he shot in the 1960s and 1970s, at other times, the history of cinema itself is brought to the fore by the reading of extant letters by Chris Marker. In other parts of the documentary, the audiences of the mobile cinema tell and discuss the history of Guinea-Bissau, a reunion of sort, where both the creators and the viewers of the images are given a space to collectively discuss and reconsider the country’s past and present.
Spell Reel was perhaps the best archival example at the 2017 edition of the iREP International Documentary Film Festival and serves to underscore the usefulness of the archive in contemporary times.
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