A pioneer of Bissau-Guinean cinema, Flora Gomes is one of the first film directors to have filmed in his country after it declared independence. His work, a mixture of documentaries and fictional films, has catapulted him into the ranks of the key filmmakers of Lusophone Africa.
Published on 23/02/2021
Flora Gomes was born in 1949 into a poor and illiterate family, in a Guinea-Bissau under the authoritarian yoke of Portuguese dictator Salazar. After becoming politically involved in the national liberation movement led by the revolutionary Amilcar Cabral, he left his homeland to study film at the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry.
Back in Guinea-Bissau shortly after the country declared independence in 1973, he became a photographer and video maker at the Ministry of Information. He made three documentary reportages and assisted Chris Marker with the filming of Sans Soleil (Sunless, 1983), before making in 1988 his first feature film, Mortu Nega (Death Denied), the second ever feature-length film in the history of Guinea-Bissau. Despite instability in the country, funding issues and the near-total absence of screening rooms, Gomes remained in his homeland. He filmed two other feature films, Udju Azul di Yonta (The Blue Eyes of Yonta, 1992) and the celebrated Nha Fala (My Voice, 2002), contributing to the revelation of a national cinema.
Though Gomes abandoned the well-trodden path of activism that he had taken in his youth, the issue of politics has nevertheless remained a leitmotif in his work – particularly the war of independence that tore Guinea-Bissau apart –, both in his early short documentaries and his later work. One example is Mortu Nega (1988), a sensitive account of a woman who sets off through scrubland to join her husband who is fighting the Portuguese occupation; another is As Duas Faces da Guerra (Two Faces of War, 2008), co-directed with the Portuguese journalist Diana Adringa. This collaborative piece illustrates two perceptions of a war: a war of independence for some, “the African war” for others. Finally, for his last feature film to date, A República di Mininus (The Children's Republic, 2012), Gomes swapped historical narrative for political fable as another way to once again tackle the harrowing problems of co-existence.
As the author of a documentary body of work that was initially restricted and focused mainly on the political turmoil that engulfed Guinea-Bissau during the second half of the 20th century, Gomes gained international recognition in 1988 with the release of Mortu Nega, his first feature film, screened at the Venice Film Festival that same year. With this fresco on the fight for independence, Western critics discovered the bloody history of a little-known country and a new and talented filmmaker. In yet another accolade, his third feature, Po Di Sangui (Tree of Blood) was presented as part of the official selection at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.
The highly-acclaimed film Mortu Nega is released.
Po Di Sangui is presented as part of the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival.
Flora Gomes is made Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) in France.
The fictional film A República di Mininus is broadcast.
Several films by Flora Gomes, such as Mortu nega, Nha fala and A República di Mininus, has been screened internationally by the Institut français.The Institut français, together with the Cinémathèque Afrique, offers a catalogue of over 1,600 African films from 1960 to the present day.
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