Reporting back: Portraying people in the divided city of Maputo
CMI researcher Inge Tvedten and his UiB colleague Bjørn Bertelsen took an unconventional grip in communicating their research project about people in Mozambique’s capital city Maputo. They let the Mozambican film company ANIMA go on an artistic spree with their research results. So far, more than 2000 people in the bairros have seen their film. This is one research project that will not just end up in a drawer.
In the Bantu language Tsonga, there is no word for future. The poor people of the bairros in Maputo focus on the present. The film ‘Maputo – Ethnography of a divided city’ portrays the poor inhabitants in the Mozambican capital Maputo. It also portrays their rich neighbours, who are preoccupied with nothing but the future.
The film is part of the CMI research project ‘The ethnography of a divided city. Socio-politics, gender and poverty in Maputo’ led by senior researcher Inge Tvedten. It gives a unique glimpse into the lives of people in a distinctly divided city.
Empowerment in practice
After the first screenings at the Bergen International Film Festival last autumn, Tvedten, Fábio Ribeiro and João Graça from the Mozambican production company ANIMA who produced the film took it back to the bairros in Maputo.
-The added value of investing in a project like this is that this is not something that only a few persons will read about in an article, says Tvedten.
So far more than 2000 people in the bairros have seen the film, and the screenings continue in different parts of the city. It will also eventually be shown on Mozambican TV.
The reactions so far have been overwhelmingly positive. One of the most interesting experiences for the production team has been that the audience in the bairros have reacted differently than the audience in the city centre.
-In the poor bairros, people laughed where others felt sad, and were quiet where others laughed. Screening the film in the bairros gave us a different perspective on how people view their city, and how it feels like to be watched through the eyes of others. It made us question the notions we have of their reality, says Ribeiro.
The film will also be shown at universities and to policymakers.
-We did not set out to prove anything, we just wanted to put a face to the city and its people. Having seen the film, policymakers and politicians can choose to act on it or not. We cannot control that. What we can do is to make sure that this will not simply end up in a drawer, says Ribeiro.
For the researchers and the film team, it has been imperative to give the inhabitants of the Maputo barrios a voice and let them tell their own stories without filters. It is a way of honouring the people who willingly invited them into their lives and shared their dreams and despairs. Giving them a voice and letting them tell their own story is also a unique way of empowerment.
A different kind of research communication
By now, the researchers have had time to reflect about a process that in many ways is very different from traditional research communication. Even though the film is based on and closely linked to the research project, it is not a classical research film. The researchers wanted the film team to work independently of them.
-We felt confident that the film team would capture the idea of how people perceive their city, and it is beautifully done. Anima has done a good job reflecting our research. If we had cooperated any closer, it would have been a totally different film, says Tvedten.
It has been a very different approach also for the film team. They are used to spending hours on end researching before they shoot a film. This time, someone else has already done the research for them. They started screening Maputo’s barrios for characters immediately. In a city of 1.1 million inhabitants, there were many to choose from.
-People opened up to us and invited us into their lives. They got so used to the camera that we managed to capture their everyday lives in an authentic and real sense. This of course caused ethical dilemmas says Ribeiro.
Divided city, divided future
Nhez, one of the main protagonists, lives with his family in one of the poorest bairros in Maputo. In one of the scenes, the audience gets to see his father drunk and his family members quarrel loudly. The atmosphere is tense and his father can hardly move. Tvedten, Ribeiro and the rest of the team discussed whether to include these scenes with Nhez himself.
-He simply said that this is his life, so why try to hide it?
The film portrays what at times is a harsh life for many of the characters. For Ribeiro, it is important to stress that this is only part of the picture, and that Maputo and its inhabitants are complex.
-People are happy most of the time. Nhez is. There is more to their lives than poverty, says Ribeiro.
At the end of the film, Nhez is taken to one of the modern and expensive flats under construction in an affluent part of the city. This will probably be his first and last visit to a part of the city that he does not consider to be his.
-The majority of the characters in our film will never meet the people who buy these flats. Their city is divided. Their future is divided, says Ribeiro.
Watch the trailer here: