IDFA: African Mirror
The Swiss documentary filmmaker René Gardi saw the inhabitants of Cameroon as a people with immense freedom who didn’t concern themselves with Western notions of money and property. In footage shot in the 1950s, he compares them with the mountain people of his own homeland. He pointed his camera at the scenes that fascinated him most, sometimes having his subjects reenact them so they looked better on film. At that time, he had no idea of the effect that these images would have.
African Mirror is a collage of film and voiced-over correspondence from Gardi’s archive. With disturbing clarity we see how, in just a few decades, traditional African cultures were destroyed forever—not only by the colonialists imposing Western ideas of civilization on the local population, but also by people like Gardi. His idealized images of Africa went around the world, transforming the continent into a utopia onto which European filmmakers and tourists could project their wildest fantasies. It turns out that this Western fascination had immense destructive power.