"We have fallen victim to a memory genocide"
Mozambican filmmaker Inadelso Cossa's is following up his First Appearance Competition-selected feature documentary debut with The Nights Still Smell of Gunpowder. Both films excavate elements of his country's recent history which have been obscured.
In The Nights Still Smell of Gunpowder, Cossa tells a very personal story, returning to the village he grew up in and confronting the fictions about the Mozambican civil war he was told as a child. “During the civil war in Mozambique, I spent the summertime in my grandmother's house. By day it was a paradise, but at night everything changed, because the rebels would attack the village. When I was woken up in the middle of the night to flee, my grandmother would reassure me by saying that all the noise was only fireworks. This idea of the fiction of war is personal, but it also represents the blind spot that still exists today; people downplay the importance of that period.”
The film follows Cossa in a process of discovering a part of his country's past that has been hidden, as he also did in his first feature-length documentary A Memory in Three Acts. “Both films revolve around me looking for answers, looking for why our history is not being taught in schools”, he says. “These memory exercises are my core as a filmmaker, I can't escape it. My past is done, now I'm doing a recovery, and I have to do it in a way that does justice to myself and to the country's history. Because we have fallen victim to a memory genocide. This also becomes personal, since my grandmother is now suffering from Alzheimer's. I'm up against time: I'm trying to construct a memory while her memory is fading out.”
This construction has become even more urgent for Cossa in light of recent developments in his home country. “Mozambique was on the brink of war again, and we have to avoid that. Knowing your past is so important to be able to know who you are and where you're going. I don't want to have to tell the same fiction to my son that my grandmother told me, in order to protect him from the same experiences.”
Cossa credits the IDFA Bertha Fund for allowing him the time to develop that very personal investigation. “It's not just about the money, but about the spiritual and philosophical way they work with filmmakers. They helped me find my voice as an artist, also by allowing me to participate in the IDFAcademy program. To expose my project to people from around the world who really know how the industry works and to see all the other projects, that truly changed my attitude. Even if you're facing political persecution or censorship, you're more secure and less isolated, because you know you're not the only one trying to cross that bridge. Looking back to myself three years ago and comparing it to how I work now, I know that I can speak up more clearly, and the IDFA Bertha Fund was a cornerstone in that development.” (JBH)
Inadelso Cossa at IDFA 2018, where he was selected to be part of the jury of the competition for short documentary. His project The Nights Still Smell of Gunpowder received IBF Classic - Development support in 2018.