The Democrats

Over the last 10 years Denmark has produced many great female documentary Directors including Eva Mulvad, Hanna Polak and Phie Ambo. The newest kid on the block, Camilla Nielsson, is currently making waves with her first feature doc The Democrats. I saw the premiere last November at CPH DOX and was completely drawn into this transfixing story. Admittedly on paper it did not read as such, Zimbabwe’s constitutional-reform through grassroots meetings did not sound like the substance of a riveting documentary!

But thanks to Nielsson’s storytelling talent, her choice of characters and her incredible behind-the-scenes access to her two politicians, it built all the humour and nervous tension you could wish for in a complex and engaging political film.

During the Q&A she said:

“It wasn’t so much the subject of a new constitution that drew me to the story but the tale of two political enemies, forced into a joint mission to save the country. They were given a Sisyphean task!”

The 2008 Zimbabwean election, one of Africa's bloodiest, and the subsequent formation of a coalition government (to date a purely symbolic gesture by autocrat Robert Mugabe to the opposition party MDC) brought with it a call for a new constitution, one that is supported by the entire population of the country.

"No filmmaker could have wished for more universally recognisable, Machiavellian players!"

Paul Mangwana, the leader of Mugabe’s political party, Zimbabwe African National Union, and Douglas Mwonzora, a member of the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, were given the task to travel up and down the country to debate and draft jointly a new constitution for the country. The journey started as a power-game, mainly with Mangwana’s constant attempts at hindering negotiations against Mwonzora’s patient approach of never meeting aggression with aggression, with both coming to the realisation the other is smarter than they initially deemed them to be. No filmmaker could have wished for more universally recognisable, Machiavellian players!

The outcome is a complicated portrait of democracy-in-the-making and the development of a unique friendship between two opposing politicians giving us, the audience, hope that a common sense of humanity can overcome our political differences. Camilla Nielsson’s film provides a unique look at a democratic process that included more than 5,800 public hearings. The idea was to bring supporters of both parties together to discuss the future organisation of Zimbabwe. People travelled great distances to attend. A great lesson to all our political parties!

Masterclasses & Screenings:

I am delighted that, in partnership with Take One Action, Camilla will be leading a free Masterclass on crafting a character-driven story within a difficult political backdrop. Camilla will not just discuss the film, but will open up a dialogue about the importance of documentary filmmaking on a wider scale and the power it has to change lives. Taking place on Friday 25th September from 14:00 to 16:00 at ECA, Cinema Space this is a really great opportunity to gain an insight into the challenging process of documenting a turbulent context. The discussion will be followed by a screening of Democrats at 8.30pm at Filmhouse, Edinburgh, though Camilla suggests anyone participating in the Masterclass watches the film in advance, you can do so here on GooglePlay.

We are also incredibly lucky to be able to offer another fantastic Masterclass with an award-winning female filmmaker. Ryley Grunenwald will be discussing the development and outreach campaign of her latest feature The Shore Break on Friday 18th September from 14.30 to 16.30 at the ECA, Lecture Theatre 017. The Shore Break is an engrossing feature that looks at a standoff between corrupt pro-mining forces and a South African coastal community and has already screened at A-list festivals such as IDFA & Hotdocs. In addition to talking about the film Ryley will discuss her wider career to date, and what motivates her as a filmmaker.

All in all an inspiring and thought provoking selection of films and events to get our teeth stuck into this Autumn!