I Am Not a Witch, by Rungano Nyoni
I Am Not a Witch is the first feature film from the very promising Rungano Nyoni. Born in Zambia, wherein the filmmaker has created a poetic and humorous fable about the childhood of Shula, who is scorned after accusations of witchcraft.
A talented director
Born in Zambia in 1982, Rungano Nyoni grew up in the United Kingdom. After training as an actress at the University of Arts in London, she produced several short films which were selected at numerous festivals. These include: Mwansa The Great, recognized by more than twenty awards, and The Mass of Men (2012), co-written with Gabriel Gauchet and winner of the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Festival in 2012.
Empowered by these successes, Rungano Nyoni joined the 2014 Nordic Factory by the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, a programme aimed at bringing emerging talents to the international stage. She worked with the Finnish director Hamy Ramezan on Listen, which was nominated at the Oscars that the same year.
A modern African fable
Inspired by the story Mr Seguin’s Goat by Alphonse Daudet, I Am Not a Witch is a modern fable. In a Zambia caught between globalization and ancestral beliefs, little Shula is accused of witchcraft by the villagers in her hometown. She then finds herself faced with an impossible choice: to remain human but trapped in a camp for witches, or to become a goat and live free.
Playing on a repertoire of the absurd which is typical of local African productions, Rungano Nyoni depicts situations where the characters’ plights illuminate real societal challenges.
An unexpected discovery
The magic of I Am Not a Witch is largely thanks to Margaret Mulubwa's captivating portrayal of Shula, a fact made all the more remarkable as it was only by chance that this young actress became part of the production. It was during a scouting mission on a northern Zambian peninsula that Margaret was photographed, by chance, simply because she happened to be there.
When she discovered the images, Rungano Nyoni immediately imagined her in the role of the heroine. It was after inconclusive auditions in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia where the movie was to be filmed, that Rungano Niony decided to find Margaret and give her the role.
Amateur actors and improvisation
With I Am Not a Witch, Rungano Nyoni took a bold gamble, that of filming with exclusively non-professional Zambian actors.
This posed a double challenge for the director, who had to both work with the general lack of experience and to adapt to each person's working methods. Drawing on her creative leadership style, Nyoni organized scriptless rehearsals working from improvised scenes. This method allowed the authenticity of the actors improv games to be preserved, offering them great freedom.
The bet obviously paid off, as the film was presented at the Quinzaine des réalisateurs at Cannes and closed the Toronto, Canada festival in 2017.
I Am Not a Witch was supported by the Aide aux cinémas du monde fund in 2016.
This Institut français programme provides support to foreign film-makers for film projects co-produced with France, whether they be feature-length fiction, animated films or creative documentaries.