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Courtney Hughes

Zambian-born, Welsh-raised director Rungano Nyoni’s debut feature, I Am Not a Witch, tells the tale of a superstitious small Zambian community and its underlying corruption. It focuses on Shula, a shy orphan who is accused of being a witch by her fellow townspeople and is ostracised to a government-run witch camp. After being moved to the witch camp, Shula is placed in the care of government official Mr. Banda (Henry B. J. Phiri) who views her as an exploitable commodity to make money from via television appearances and imitating rituals.

Exploitation appears as a continuous theme throughout the film as both the witch camp and Shula herself are presented as a tourist attraction. The opening of the film introduces rows of elderly women covered in face paint sitting silently as a tourist guide answers questions from the paying travellers. Later in the film, this occurrence is reiterated as a pitiful Shula is told to look towards the camera so a tourist can take a selfie, cheerily exclaiming it would lift Shula’s spirits – it’s safe to say it did not.

As you watch, it’s obvious that Nyoni intended for the film to create a sense of uneasiness through simple editing and sound techniques which sets apart her style of filmmaking. Certain scenes which would normally be over with quickly are left to linger for an unnecessary length of time, and others are given using a sequence of s ...

Zambian-born, Welsh-raised director Rungano Nyoni’s debut feature, I Am Not a Witch, tells the tale of a superstitious small Zambian community and its underlying corruption. It focuses on Shula, a shy orphan who is accused of being a witch by her fellow townspeople and is ostracised to a government-run witch camp. After being moved to the witch camp, Shula is placed in the care of government official Mr. Banda (Henry B. J. Phiri) who views her as an exploitable commodity to make money from via television appearances and imitating rituals.

Exploitation appears as a continuous theme throughout the film as both the witch camp and Shula herself are presented as a tourist attraction. The opening of the film introduces rows of elderly women covered in face paint sitting silently as a tourist guide answers questions from the paying travellers. Later in the film, this occurrence is reiterated as a pitiful Shula is told to look towards the camera so a tourist can take a selfie, cheerily exclaiming it would lift Shula’s spirits – it’s safe to say it did not.

As you watch, it’s obvious that Nyoni intended for the film to create a sense of uneasiness through simple editing and sound techniques which sets apart her style of filmmaking. Certain scenes which would normally be over with quickly are left to linger for an unnecessary length of time, and others are given using a sequence of shots which leaves the narrative unclear but the image stuck in your mind. Nyoni raises the levels of thrill and anxiety by including orchestral music in certain scenes which would sometimes get cut in exchange for a juxtaposing silence, which felt a little chaotic but worked for the most part.

Overall, it feels as though Nyoni focused more on the aesthetic appeal of the film rather than ensuring the narrative was consistent. However, I Am Not a Witch is a thrilling debut feature, and with it Nyoni has clearly left her mark on the arthouse scene.

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