3:00 PM, Sunday 01 May 
Premier: Introduced by Annouchka De Andrade

1:00 PM, Monday 02 May

Randwick Ritz

Director: Sarah Maldoror
Country: Angola/ France/ Republic of Congo-Brazzaville
Year: 1972
Runtime: 102 minutes
Rating: UC15+
Lingala, Kimbundu, Portuguese, English subtitles


Angola 1961. A tractor driver working in a quarry is arrested for his political views and his wife, carrying her baby, walks from village to village and police station to police station, trying to locate her husband.

The first feature film to be made and released in Africa by a woman of African descent, director Sarah Maldoror, who worked on The Battle of Algiers in 1966, co-wrote the script with her compagnon Mario de Andrade, co-founder and first President of the Angolan Liberation Movement against the Portuguese.

Lost for decades in a battle over rights, Sambizanga has finally been restored with help from Maldoror’s children and Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation.

“The political is rarely so bluntly personal, and vice versa, but Sambizanga is far from a screed, or a polemic. Instead it’s a beautiful reminder that ideas are the most important things we have…”   Sarah Manvel

Restored in 2021 by the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project and Cineteca di Bologna in association with Éditions René Chateau and the family of Sarah Maldoror.

Video introduction by Sarah Maldoror’s daughter and independent curator, screenwriter, producer and distributor, Annouchka De Andrade.

Previously Artistic Director of the Amiens International Film Festival, Annouchka has also worked with the French diplomatic service as Cultural Attaché, as director of the Institut Français in Seville, Spain, and as Regional Audiovisual Attaché for the Andean nations and in Colombia. Over the past ten years, Annouchka worked closely with her mother Sarah Maldoror. Alongside her sister Henda Ducados, Annouchka continues to develop projects which aim to value, preserve and restore the work of her parents, Sarah Maldoror and Mário de Andrade, a couple whose artistic and political commitment marked the 20th century.

By Annouchka De Andrade
Sambizanga has a sensual aesthetic, conveyed through scenes of everyday life: the couple Maria and Domingos, Maria’s long journeys on foot along dusty tracks, with the mist rising up from the ground, and Maria’s relationship with the child she carries on her back, who is cared for by other women when she stays with friends.

The beauty of the images, and of Elisa Andrade in the role of Maria, drew adverse comments from critics. Sarah Maldoror always stood her ground against such criticism, and its implied clichés about African people (that they are poor, ignorant and starving). “I’m not interested in showing poverty,” she stated, adding, “I prefer to try and find the poetry.” Most of the film’s characters are played by militants of the MPLA (the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and they all speak in their native Portuguese, Lingala or Kimbundu. A rather bold choice, which contributes to the film’s realism: the sewing course that is a lesson in politics, the relaying of messages even in prison, the mobilisation of militants and youngsters to identify Domingos, and the meetings held in the middle of dances. This film is also the story of Maria and her political awakening. Her continual displacement is also Sarah’s, and it defines women in the African diaspora. The complexity of Sarah’s own situation and her relationship with her partner, Mário de Andrade, led to his recurrent and at times prolonged absences from the family home. He was in hiding for a long time from Interpol, and he took on the presidency of the MPLA political movement and the CONCP (Conferences of Nationalist Organisations of the Portuguese Colonies).

In a way, it could be said that the character of Maria becomes intertwined with Sarah’s personal life. Their political awareness; their solitary struggle with their children (Maria journeys with her child on her back, just as my sister Henda and I went everywhere with our mother, Sarah, while the children of the other leaders, Cabral and Boal, were in boarding schools in Moscow or Bucharest); the death of their partner for political reasons; and above all else, their perseverance, despite the obstacles, always forging ahead… The surge of hope in the film’s final scene will remain with us: “Be strong, comrade, he was our friend, our brother, he disappeared in the night, and we will never forget him.”

Notes by Annouchka De Andrade re-printed with the permission of the author. First published by Cineteca di Bologna in 2021. 

By Helen Goritsas

Sarah Maldoror:

A remarkable artist and pioneer of African cinema, Sarah Maldoror was born Sarah Ducados in 1929, in Condom, Gers, in the south-west of France to a French mother and a Guadeloupian father of Africa descent. At an early age Maldoror developed an interest in theatre and joined a drama school in Paris. It was at this time, in a feminist gesture of reimagining and remaking which would underscore and inform much of her later work in creating alternative cinemas, that she reinvented herself as an artist. Taking the name, of her hero, Maldoror, from the influential surrealist, poetic novel, The Songs of Maldoror (1869) by Comte de Lautréamont.

After studying theatre at drama school, Maldoror became actively involved in the struggle for African independence. She co-founded in 1956, the Compagnie d’Art Dramatique des Griots (The Storytellers). The first all-black theatre company in France. A pioneering and revisionist ensemble of actors of colour, committed to the aim of ending the “role of maid”. From the very beginning Maldoror was interested in collective work. It was here in the theatre that she met her life-long partner and collaborator Angolan poet, scholar and The People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) co-founder, Mário Coelho Pinto de Andrade. Together they parented two daughters, Henda Ducados Pinto de Andrade, and Annouchka de Andrade.

In 1961, Maldoror was awarded a scholarship to study film at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in Moscow, under the instruction of the gifted Russian director Mark Semyonovich Donskoi. At the Moscow Film Academy, she met and was greatly inspired by Sengelese filmmaker, Ousmane Sembène who was also studying film at that time and was introduced to the film techniques and Marxist-Leninist ideology of Soviet Cinema from which Maldoror developed a committed cinema aesthetic of her own.

She was profoundly engaged with poetry, music and the arts and motivated by the struggle to liberate the oppressed. After completing her film studies and before commencing her directing career, Maldoror worked as an assistant director on Gillo Pontecorvo's staggering landmark anti-colonial political thriller Battle of Algiers (1966).

She then made her debut short film Monamgambée (1968), a film set in Angola involving the interrogation and torture of a prisoner which was selected for the Directors Fortnight at Cannes in 1971. Maldoror followed up with her first feature film Guns for Banta (1970) which was regrettably confiscated by the Algerian army and never recovered. The following year she made her much lauded masterpiece Sambizanga (1972),which explores the Angola liberation struggle as perceived by women. The film was released to international acclaim and won the prestigious Tanit d’or prize at the Carthage Film Festival that same year. 

Concerned with African culture and the role of African women in African cinema Maldoror believed; “African women must be everywhere. They must be in the images, behind the camera, in the editing room and involved in every stage of the making of a film. They must be the ones to talk about their problems”. 

Maldoror, directed over forty films, in her lifetime, consisting of short films, features, documentaries, later for French Television and more than fifteen film projects that were never completed. Sadly, many of her films that where made have suffered damage or loss.

In 2012, Maldoror, was awarded the distinction of Chevalier dans l’ordre national du Mérite (Knight-National Order of Merit) by Frédéric Mitterrand, the then French cultural minster for significant cultural and historical contributions.

A unique and major figure of Pan African Cinema, film director Sarah Maldoror passed away from COVID-19 complications in April of 2020 at the age of ninety in Fontenay-Les-Briis, France.

The Film:
A masterpiece of Third Cinema Sambizanga (1972) was the first feature film directed by a woman in Africa. Told from a women’s perspective by one of cinema’s truly revolutionary artists, Sarah Maldoror passionately examines the cruelty of the colonial order and the strength of will demanded to topple it.

Set in 1961 in pre-independent Angola. The film is based on the political novella “The Real Life of Domingos Xavier" written by the Portuguese Angolan writer, Jose Luandino Viera. The story is based on Vieira’s own experiences. Having completed his book only days before he was arrested and taken prisoner by the Portuguese authorities. He was incarcerated for his links to the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and for the group’s recent strikes on prisons and police stations. 

The title for the film adaptation takes its name from the neighbourhood Sambizanga, a black working-class district and the location of the notorious Portuguese prison in Luanda, the capital of Angola. A prison brutally employed by the colonial secret political police to forcibly hold, and routinely torture Angolan activists.

The film script was co-written by Sarah Maldoror, French novelist and short story writer Maurice Pons, and Maldoror’s husband, Mário Coelho Pinto de Andrade an Angolan poet, liberation activist, and founder of the (MPLA).

As the film could not be made in Angola it was shot in the outskirts of Congo Brazzaville, over a seven-week period. The film was co-funded by the Congolese government, a Marxist-Leninist state at that time and the French Agency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation and France’s National Centre for Cinema. The film crew was predominately French working with a cast of non-professional actors. The cast consisted of mainly freedom fighters, sympathetic to the anti-imperialist movements of the MPLA and the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).

Sambizanga is the story of the sacrifice of Domingos Xavier, (played by Domingos Oliveira, an Angolan exile living in the People’s Republic of Congo). Xavier is a handsome and strong, tractor driver working in a remote coastal village. He harbours nationalist sympathies and is secretly active in the underground political resistance. He is a “good family man” with a loving gentle character as Maldoror in an earlier scene skilfully presents.

In a significant departure from the novella, Maldoror structures the film’s narrative around Domingos Xavier’s wife, Maria (played by economist Elisa Andrade from Cape Verdean), when Domingos is kidnapped by the colonial police on suspicion of revolutionary activity. Domingos, is forcibly taken to a jail in Luanda where he is interrogated and brutally treated for not betraying his fellow dissidents. Chief amongst those his white contact.

Comforted by the local women in the village, Maria ties Bastiao, their new born son, to her back and sets out on foot on a long trek in the hot sun in a desperate search to find her husband. In carrying their son, Maldoror, metaphorically cast’s Maria, as the central character in the film. Maria’s struggle is sorrowful, lonely and protracted. Slowly tramping through the tall grass of the Angola bush, resolute in her duty she typifies and evokes the collective ideal. A symbol of change carrying the weight and hope of future Angolan generations.

It is this ideal of the individual as an intrinsic part of the community that Maldoror brings to the fore. A powerful combative film, Maldoror interweaves three narrative threads that thematically tie together, synthesising traditional African values of family with communal values of class solidarity. These are; The martyrdom of Domingos, Maria’s symbolic rite of passage and the revolutionary networks efforts to identity and reassure the captive.

Understanding that the camera is a kind of weapon to instil political awareness, Maldoror unflinchingly presents the fate of freedom fighters who are made to “disappear” by the state. The camera follows his wife Maria as she makes the arduous march from the slums of their small village to the outskirts of the capital, to plead for his release. She is kept in the dark. Desperately searching from one prison to another, trying to discover the whereabouts of her husband only to be stonewalled by the colonial authorities and told they have no record of him.

Increasingly hardened and unaware of Domingos fate, and with little means of defending this injustice, Maria nevertheless, with strength and resilience persists in vain. Navigating an increasingly cruel and coldly bureaucratic system centuries old, of colonial male domination in the dark, and without hope. In Sambizanga,Maldoror portrays the double oppression of women by both the sexism and inhumanity of the Portuguese rule. Maldoror also depicts the courage of ordinary African men and women in Angola who are made to suffer this injustice with dignity.

A milestone of African Cinema, the film ends with an upbeat party for all the members of the underground movement to celebrate Angolan identity. Urban Angolan music and dance are vital to Sambizanga and its locals helping to preserve Angolan culture, promote Angolan sovereignty and raise the Angolans hope for freedom.

The sound of the energetic song, “Mama Uelele,” envelops the scene. The party stands in a circle. It is both a moment of mourning and celebration. A celebration of life as much in collective suffering as in communal song. For as Mussunda, one of the leaders of the liberation movement, reminds us, “Domingos has begun his real life, at the heart of the Angolan people”. In this one line of dialogue the very essence of Sambizanga can be encapsulated. The necessity for a mass marshalling and collective action by the oppressed.

A humanist dramatisation, the plight of the film’s protagonist acts as a parable for the emerging consciousness of a long-colonised people. Maria’s exhausting journey and her growing awareness are symbolic of the materialising consciousness of the Angolan liberation struggle and of a community on the precipice of transformation.

The film recounts the failure of the colonial regime and the events igniting the insurgency to follow. The final scene, a conversation amongst the rebels planning to storm Luanda prison, the much-hated symbol of colonial repression with the date set as February 4, the start of the armed struggle for national liberation.

Before closing with the final shot of muddy waves breaking onto the river bank whilst a raging current, surges past. Maldoror poetically bookends the opening and closing moments of Sambizanga with this reoccurring motif summoning up the turmoil of the revolutionary struggle that is representative of the collective. Uneducated labourers, villages, children, old men and women of the slums. For as the waves crash onto the rocks more behind them will rise up and follow.  

Unapologetically partisan, Sambizanga is not an overtly political film. In recreating the past Maldoror creates a gripping neorealist drama that is both instructive and propagandist. The film is restrained yet it directly confronts the complexity and violence of the past. Set amongst the working class living in poverty in Angola, Maldoror deals realistically with the events leading up to the insurgency. Powerful and poetic in emphasising the repression of the poor by the rich. Sambizanga offers a class testimony and an inditment of a system of rule that perpetuates poverty.

A decolonial filmmaker, Maldoror explores counter imaging and counter history through a feminist lens, creating a radical archetypical narrative by employing the camera like a type of weapon for national self-determination and cultural emancipation. The camera serves as an educational and rallying instrument to show and explain the colonial exploitation taking place in Angola and to give recognition to the women for their participation in this struggle.

The narrative structure of the film follows the rich traditional tapestry of African oral storytelling. One of the major functions of oral storytelling is to teach suggestively through allusion and assist people in educating the young and transmitting important lessons about history, experience and life.

A personal and touching film, Maldoror, is committed to highlighting and underscoring the significant role of women in the revolutionary struggle. In Maldoror’s adaptation Maria assumes a heroic role. She must remain strong for the sake of their son. Tending to Bastiao’s growth signifies the hope and longing for the rebirth of Angola, free from Portuguese colonial injustice.

Maldoror’s directional style is understated and intimate, and not at all melodramatic despite the violence communicated on screen. She integrates the visual political, sonic and dramatic elements of the film so effectively that the form and the content of the work are elegantly balanced.

Sambizanga is a radiant and alluring motion picture. Beautifully shot by Claude Agostini on 35mm film using a warm colour palette of glistening soft light to compliment the landscape of thick grassy hills, dusty roads and Maria’s vibrant rural dress. The compositions are frequently absorbing, demonstrating Maldoror’s strong artistic sensibility in particular during the film protagonist’s achingly arduous journey to the capital. Filmed in wide shot enveloped by a golden haze, a telephoto lens was used in this sequence to compress the background behind the character, the effect of which makes Maria’s, slow and frustrating journey on foot seem even more protracted. By enhancing the theme of decolonisation aesthetically, Maldoror step by step builds an unavoidable support for the liberation struggle.

Maldoror, ingeniously intercuts between many of the action sequences in the film to juxtapose the historically unjust cause of oppression with the just cause of liberation. As shown in the scenes of the break-up of the family with the kidnapping of Domingos. Taken away in the Land Rover, tied up like a slave, alone and separated from Maria and Bastiao who are being comforted by the women in their village. The rhythm of this parallel editing technique cleverly pits the theme of the will to self-determination against the exploitation of colonisation. Establishing the ideal of emancipation for which the activists are fighting.

The soundscape and musical composition of the film beautifully enriches and reinforces these very themes. Maldoror, lyrically utilises the repetition of music to galvanise the narrative. From the very beginning, with the stirring song “Monanagambée” which can be heard in the opening credits of the film. “Monangambeee” was employed by activists during the revolution to rally the villages together.

Likewise, an exquisite mourning ballet of searing tenderness escorts Maria on her quest to find her husband and melds with the textures and colours of the visuals. This song is heard again during her bus ride to Luanda reinforcing her gradual awakening to the liberation movement. Similarly, the scene where Domingos, is brought back to his prison cell, with the other inmates who sing a liberation ballad over his body, "Let us never forget him" while tenderly bathing blood from his wounds.

Maldoror’s observational style of filmmaking is a radical act of will. Grounded in visual detail her propensity to pay close attention to the generally ignored, ordinary activities and details of everyday life becomes a revolutionary act of politically interventionalist cinema. The film’s unhurried pace is intentional, allowing the viewer who may not be familiar with Angolan society to inhabit the world of the film.

The subtility with which the characters and themes are woven together is understated yet effective. The liberation struggle is suggested in a relatable and just way. The brutality grows and the picture becomes clearer allowing the interpretation of the film to be left to the spectator.

The street scenes, filmed with a fluid, camera movement provide meaningful footage of everyday existence that imbues the film with a contemplative quality. Simply by noticing through the act of listening the lives of the community of Angolan characters become significant for the spectator. Sequences unravel in almost real time prompting thought and enabling reflection. Allowing the characters to grow and the spectator to grow in understanding.

Maldoror’s emphasis on pace, duration and rhythm is tantamount to a rejection of colonial temporality. The time it takes to walk anywhere, or the difficulty experienced in obtaining a message, preparing a meal or even cutting cloth in a tailor’s shop creates a canvas of a society and is portrayed didactically as a political tool for social change.

Maldoror delicately subverts the inhumanity of colonial authority by insisting on demonstrations of intimate tenderness and caring, thus enabling a poetics of relation. Maldoror’s sensitivity, her ability to see and listen with care and capture how mutual care shapes communal relations through often unrecorded small acts of solidarity provides a powerful and deep critique. In order to replace the prevailing colonial civil order which limits and often destroys individual prospects, there is a sincere need for care and repair in nation building.

Banned by the Angolan government, Sambizanga was eventually released in Portugal in 1974 after the Portuguese dictatorship under Zalazar, was overthrown by the armed forces movement. Viera’s novella written in 1961 was also finally published by Mário Coelho Pinto de Andrade, and Viera having served fourteen years in prison, released.

As a consequence of the Carnation Revolution the Portuguese fascist regime immediately withdrew from colonised Angola. The Portuguese colonial rule that had lasted for almost five hundred years, had at long last come to an abrupt end.

Politically significant, this militant film presents an invaluable opportunity to reassess how the Portuguese colonisation of Africa violated the histories of native Angolans. In this work Maldoror makes a momentous contribution. Reimagining through the medium of the moving image an anti-colonial vision from the point of view of an African woman.

An unforgettable treasure of world cinema. This newly and beautifully restored print, offers audiences the opportunity to encounter this rarely seen, ground breaking masterpiece as it was meant to be experienced. Maldoror’s, Sambizanga is not to be missed!
The Restoration:
Sambizanga, newly and exquisitely restored by the Cineteca di Bologna and Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation. Restored in 4K at L’Image Retrouvée (Paris) from the 35mm original negatives in association with Éditions René Chateau and the family of Sarah Maldoror. Funding provided by Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. This restoration is part of the African Film Heritage Project, an initiative created by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers, and UNESCO – in collaboration with Cineteca di Bologna – to help locate, restore, and disseminate African cinema.


Dir: Sarah Maldoror | Angola/France/ Republic of Congo-Brazzaville | 1972 | 102 mins | Col |  2K DCP (org. 35mm) | Colour | Mono Sound | Kimbundu, Lingala, Kimbundu, Portuguese, English subtitles | Classification UC15+ 

Production Company: Isabelle Films | Producer: (Jacques POITRENAUD, uncredited) | Script: Mário Pinto DE ANDRADE, Maurice PONS, MALDOROR, from José Luandino Vieira novella, A vida verdadeira de Domingos Xavier | Photography: Claude AGOSTINI | Editor: Georges KLOTZ | Music: Ensemble Les Ombres.

Cast: Elisa ANDRADE (‘Maria’), Domingos DE OLIVERIA (‘Domingos’), Jean M’VONDO (‘Petelo’), Adelino NELUMBA(‘Zitoi’), Benoit MOUTSILA (‘Chico),TALA NGONGO (‘Miguel’), Lopes RODRIGUES (‘Mussunda’).

Source: Cineteca di Bologna.

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