Sundance winner ‘President’ banned in Zimbabwe

The government of Zimbabwe has banned “President,” Danish filmmaker Camilla Nielsson’s Oscar-nominated documentary “President” about the African nation’s corrupt 2018 presidential election. diversity can reveal exclusively.

In a June 16 letter, the country’s censorship board banned the Sundance Award-winning documentary, insisting it “has the potential to incite violence” as Zimbabwe prepares for the 2023 presidential election.

The filmmakers are now appealing the ruling in Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court, promising a lengthy legal battle.

President is the sequel to Nielsson’s critically acclaimed Democrats, which chronicles the painstaking drafting of Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution. It holds Zimbabwe at a crossroads as it prepares for its first election since the ousting of Robert Mugabe, who was pushed from power after nearly four decades following a 2017 military coup.

The film follows opposition leader Nelson Chamisa as he challenges the dictator’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, as he seeks to undo the corrupt legacy of Mugabe’s rule. Nielsson and DoP Henrik Bohn Ipsen maneuver adeptly from tumultuous political rallies to drab meeting rooms to the chambers of the country’s highest court, stalking the opposition party’s dwindling hopes as a systematic campaign of manipulation, intimidation, deception and outright violence – limited by a harrowing crackdown on a post-election protest that left six dead – allowing the ruling ZANU-PF party to claim an illegitimate victory.

“President” will be released in the US on August 8th in PBS’ award-winning POV documentary series.

Speak with diversity Nielsson from Copenhagen described the film as “testimony to the injustice of a stolen election”. Oscar-nominated producer Signe Byrge Sørensen (“The Act of Killing”, “The Look of Silence”) said the ban was the latest example of the Zimbabwean government’s increasing crackdown on dissent, adding: “You’re making yourself Worried about people seeing it for themselves and seeing what’s happening.”

Chris Mhike of Harare law firm Atherstone & Cook, who is handling the case for the Danish filmmakers, has appealed the censorship board’s decision to the Constitutional Court. In a statement provided diversity, he said: “Our constitution identifies Zimbabwe as a democracy. As such, we find this ban extremely disappointing.” The board’s decision, he added, “runs counter to the democratic tradition of free speech.”

Nielsson had high hopes when she returned to Zimbabwe to film President, which had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. “Zimbabwe has been under Mugabe’s rule since independence in 1980,” she said. “When he was deposed in a military coup, there was so much hope among the entire population that now was the time for change, so that democratic winds could finally blow through the country. We felt privileged and humbled to be able to tell this story.”

“President” won a World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for verité filmmaking at Sundance. diversity‘s Guy Lodge called the “vital, devastating documentary” a “galvanizing, epic docu-thriller” and described it as “another crucial chapter in Zimbabwe’s long, endlessly distracted road to democracy”.

The film continues a nearly decade-long chronicle of Zimbabwe’s democratic transition for Nielsson, whose previous film Democrats was also banned by the government when it was released in 2015. year litigation.

In no case was the censorship authority legally obliged to explain its decision. Referring to a government claim that the film threatens to “incite violence and undermine the state” ahead of next year’s election, Nielsson dryly remarked, “Basically, to create a revolution.”

Four years ago, former Vice President Mnangagwa came to power with high hopes that he could reverse decades of harsh rule under strongman Mugabe and lift Zimbabwe back from the brink of economic collapse. But a man dubbed “the crocodile” for his ruthlessness and political cunning has instead run an economy in freefall while failing to deliver on promised reforms and ruthlessly suppressing dissent.

In July 2020, author and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga (“I Want a Wedding Dress”) was arrested alongside journalist Julie Barnes at a protest in Harare, where both were calling for the release of journalists and for institutional reforms. Earlier this year, the Berlin International Film Festival called for her acquittal on charges of incitement to public violence, disturbance of the peace and bigotry, and violation of COVID regulations. A freelance reporter for the New York TimesJason Moyo, was also convicted this year of violating the country’s immigration laws on politically motivated charges.

“The political climate is more brutal than it was during the Mugabe era,” said Nielsson. “It was incredible to imagine five or six years ago that the post-Mugabe regime would be more brutal than the number of arrests of journalists, human rights activists, the number of murders of dissident voices [has increased].” She added: “I don’t know if I will return to Zimbabwe by then [case] is solved. I have a different kind of fear [Mnangagwa] than I did for Mugabe.”

Despite the deteriorating climate, the filmmakers said the move to take their case to the Constitutional Court would itself represent a victory, regardless of the outcome. “If we can win the case – and even if we don’t win the case – the paper trail of these battles still sets a legal precedent that is important for future generations of journalists and filmmakers in Zimbabwe,” Nielsson said. “It will create a paper trail of the current government’s illegal actions.”

Byrge added that the lawsuit only underscores the universal message at the heart of “President,” at a time when democratic norms around the world seem to be on shaky ground. “Democracies are so valuable everywhere,” she said. “This film is extremely important for Zimbabwe, but it’s also important for the rest of us to remember what democracy really is and how important it is and how wrong it can go if we lose it.” Sundance winner ‘President’ banned in Zimbabwe

Charles Jones

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