Interview – Maputo Nakuzandza

Interview with Ariadine Zampaulo

Your film portraits Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, from sunrise to sunset, through different characters and spaces, and enters into the tradition of urban symphonies, which appeared in cinema in the 1920s. What led you to choose Maputo as the setting for your film? What was the challenge of making a film whose central character is a city?
I went to Mozambique through an exchange program of the university where I studied, motivated by the research on the history of the country’s cinema and with the intention to, above all, learn more about its current production. There, I took a videographic practices course offered by the theater program at Eduardo Mondlane University, taught by professor, filmmaker and writer António Cabrita. In this context, I developed, with my classmates, the idea for the film. Since the beginning my main goal was to film the city. The challenge of having a city as a central character was to figure out how these fragmented fictional narratives would relate to the spaces, to the city itself and to each other. Not having an exact vision of what the film would be in its final cut made things even more challenging. The issue remained throughout the entire process, from screenwriting to sound design and editing, which is especially important for the consolidation of a narrative structure in the mentioned urban symphonies, and which certainly played this role here.

Your film follows several protagonists throughout their day, including a young woman who has escaped from her wedding and wanders the city like a ghost. How did you choose them and how did you work with them? Was there any improvisation?
The actors were all peers from theater class. Some of them inspired the creation of their characters, others were invited during screenwriting. In these cases, I trusted Maria Clotilde to make the choices. Maria is Mozambican, we developed the script together and she was also producer and assistant director in the film. The actors and actresses worked very actively, bringing ideas for scenes and even real stories they had experienced. Improvisation on scene was also one of the most significant forms of collaboration, and, after going through a lot of dialog between us, we reached a consensus about the actions that would be filmed. The bride’s character, in particular, was inspired by a text written by the poet Hirondina Joshua (who is also quoted in the film). Each character informed, in a way, the type of film language register we would adopt for each scene and the way I would work with the actor that portrayed him/her.

Performances by dancers, including the late Domingos Bié, in abandoned buildings appear twice in the film and reinforce this ghostly presence. What led you to include these scenes and how did you develop them?
Within the structure of the film’s narrative, these performative scenes were developed having Bollywood films as a reference, as they also interrupt the classic narrative stream to present a musical scene that dialogues with and elaborates the questions and feelings of the story.
The two ruins were buildings that were very representative of the colonial period, and filming them through these performances was a type of intervention in these spaces. The second edifice, where we shot Maria Clotilde’s performance, was a prison during the most violent period of the colonial regime. In the case of the first ruin, what interested us was the social contrast. The contrast between the poverty that exists today and a place that used to be a symbol of white men’s wealth who plundered that land was used by Bié to develop the dance that is on screen. In addition, his own work as a dancer and stage director spoked to these very issues. The text that is read in this scene was also placed later to dialogue with these same issues. It is an excerpt from the book Ualalapi, by the writer Ungulani Ba Ka Kossa, in which the character Ngugunhana, the last emperor of Gaza, is arrested by the Portuguese and, before leaving for exile, makes a speech in the Maputo Fortress that is a premonition about the evils that would come from that domination.

A radio programme, Maputo Nakuzandza, punctuates the film and nourishes the portrait of the city, especially through messages left by listeners. What led you to this choice of narrative? And what does Nakuzandza mean?
Nakuzandza means “I love you”. The title is the starting point for the narrative structure, which references other “city films”, that are films about cities told through various stories and in its various spaces. The radio came up from a conversation with Professor António Cabrita who suggested that this element could permeate some scenes. It made a lot of sense to me, because, in Maputo, the radio was always present in my daily life, especially in the “chapas” (public transportation) that I took between my University and downtown. We thought of many possibilities and we ended up making it a sound element that appears in the spaces, sometimes in a diegetic way, sometimes in a more mysterious way. I also chose the radio because it is a way of narrating this story with something that emerges from within; it is an element that is part of the landscape, of the daily life, of the culture of the place.

You refer to several dead Mozambican authors, whose faces are represented on the wall of literature in the Mafalala neighborhood, but also to a contemporary poet, Hirondina Joshua, whose poem is heard on the radio. How important are these authors to you? Did they have a particular influence on the creation of this film?
Poetry had great importance for the film, not only by the direct references to these poets and poems, but also by being part of our creative process. One of the most significant cultural events in Maputo are the poetry soirées. I saw many of them and even took part in some, and it was in one of those that I heard for the first time a poem by José Craveirinha. I could feel the power and the importance of this, through the interpretation of the young man who recited it and through the reaction of the audience.
Professor Cabrita introduced me to Hirondina Joshua whose work I really admire. I got to know her poems, among which “O corredor” (which, in Portuguese, means both “runner” and “corridor”), which dialogues a lot with the film, and she became a collaborator of the film script. Besides this, during the scriptwriting stage, Mara Clotilde and I attended a Cinema and Poetry workshop by German filmmaker David Gross, in which we produced short films from poems. This whole process was fundamental in our inspiration and motivation to start developing what would become the film and, from that moment on, David joined us as the cinematographer of the project.

These poems are a way of dealing with the (post)colonial history of the country, which is also evoked by the composition of your plans. You highlight the different types of architecture in the city and stage your characters’ encounter with certain symbolic buildings. Can you tell us about this aspect of the film?
By choosing to shoot the city of Maputo, and because it is the protagonist of the film, it seemed to us that it was inevitable to deal with the issues of its post-colonial history. This is a very latent aspect of the city, that can really be seen in the buildings, in the statues, in the street names. And then we hear about the way it was built, the division between what used to be the city of the whites and the city of the natives – which even today is evidenced by the sandy streets and the paved streets – but also the way in which the city is later reoccupied by the population with the independence revolution. For example, the statue that appears in the film is of Eduardo Mondlane, one of the main leaders in the fight for independence and one of the founders of FRELIMO, is located on the city’s main avenue, which also bears his name.
I was only able to elaborate many of these questions more deeply during the editing of the film, when I realized that the relationship with this literature would make perfect sense, as I was recurring to authors who think critically about the period of the colonial regime and, later, about the socialist government and its own issues. To evoke these authors is a way of saying that I don’t know everything, but that I am listening.

You make a brief appearance in the scene of the couple’s fight, in the middle of the film. Why did you make this choice?
When we created this scene, Maria Clotilde suggested that I interpret the mistress myself when I brought up the idea of her being a foreigner. In the same way, Maria and David, the cinematographer, make a brief appearance in the film. I realized that being in the film would be interesting because of the way it placed me in relation to the actors, to the other people who appear in it, and, now, to the audience. I also think of my participation as a negotiation in face of the ethical questions of this film. Can I, as a foreigner, portray the city of Maputo and its people? Can I place fictional characters and stories in scenes that have a documentary-type register, also capturing the “real” people in these spaces? Even though I have other films that do these things as references, being a foreigner puts me in a delicate place and, somehow, for me, being on screen suggests a more horizontal relationship with them.

Interview by Louise Martin Papasian