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85 minutes, 1996, Zimbabwe Director: Ingrid Sinclair An online FACILITATOR GUIDE is available for this title.
ABOUT THE FILM
Human Rights Watch Nestor Almendros Award
Flame is perhaps the most controversial film ever made in Africa --certainly the only one to be seized by the police during editing on the grounds it was subversive and pornographic.
Ingrid Sinclair's moving tribute to women fighters in the Zimbabwean liberation struggle aroused the ire of war veterans and the military because it revealed officers sometimes used female recruits as "comfort women." Flame's real crime may have been that it exposed not just past abuses but continuing divisions within Zimbabwean society. Many of the groups which fought hardest during the freedom struggle, for example, women and peasants, have been left behind in the post-revolutionary period; for them the revolution is still not completed. Flame provides an important and by no means unambiguous case study of who will control not only the depiction of the African past but also the African present.
Director Ingrid Sinclair explains, "Fighting women are my heroes... I used the independence struggle as a metaphor for the struggle for personal independence of all women." Originally conceived as a documentary, Flame had to be made as a fiction film because none of the seven women on whose experience it was based dared discuss sexual abuse on camera. Sinclair stresses that their experience is not the whole story of the Chimurenga or liberation war: "Flame presents only the views of one group of people...Its legitimacy rests on whether it reflects that group's view rather than pretends to represent everyone's views - or worse be objective."
It is, nonetheless, not surprising that male war veterans and current military leaders like Comrade Bornwell Chakaodza, Director of Information for the Zimbabwean Defense Forces, were outraged: "The film's failure to balance the negative scenes of the freedom fighters with their resilience and values suggests an insidious attempt to make sure future generations will have no sense of their gallantry." The fact that this, the first feature film on the Chimurenga, was directed by a woman and a white woman at that (albeit a long-time supporter of the Zimbabwean struggle) must only have aggravated their resentment. Even a woman ex-combatant commented, "If the war had been about rape, we would not have fought or won it." But another supported the film: "I, Freedom Nyamubaya, was raped and that is the truth. A society which denies the truth cannot move forward." To the credit of all involved, the film was released and the directors made some minor changes. Viewers can now decide for themselves whether the finished film reflects both the successes and unfinished tasks of this crucial phase of African history.
Flame is the story of two close friends whose involvement in the liberation struggle lead to very different outcomes. Florence, impulsive and brave, and Nyasha, scholarly and cautious, are scarcely more than children when they run away from their village to join the liberation forces in 1975. After a harrowing trek to the rebel camps in Mozambique, they adopt their new guerilla identities: Nyasha becomes Liberty, representing her desire for independence, while Florence selects Flame, symbolizing her passion.
The film accurately reconstructs conditions in the rebel camps: the extreme hardship and constant danger but also the unprecedented opportunities offered women for education and leadership. At the same time, it shows that leaders like the charismatic young political commissar, Comrade Che, often assumed that women would be available to them. When Flame resists his advances, he rapes her leaving her pregnant. But even Che is not portrayed one-dimensionally; he genuinely inspires his troops through political education and, after he apologizes to Flame, she (improbably) does not hesitate to become his lover. She is devastated when he and their infant son are killed in an aerial bombardment. After that, she has nothing to live for but combat and becomes a legendary leader of the Chimurenga.
Peace and victory are bittersweet for Flame. She returns to her village, marries an old boyfriend, Comrade Danger, and accepts the unglamorous, hardscrabble life of the countryside. Danger, however, adapts badly to civilian life, loses his job, takes to drink and begins to abuse Flame. Like so many others from the depressed rural areas, Flame must leave to find work in the booming city. There she turns for help to Liberty, who has used the training she received as an information officer during the war, to become a comparatively well-paid administrator. But their reunion is strained because the sense of mutual support and shared purpose of the revolutionary years has dissipated in the individualistic post-independence society.
The two friends finally attend a Heroes' Day party with other members of their old unit but their participation is limited to watching the ceremonies on television. Here Sinclair pointedly switches from fiction to documentary footage of Zimbabwe's present-day leadership, all male, resplendent on the viewing platform like their colonial predecessors. The old comrades turn away from the the television and salute each other; the two women greet passers-by with the Pan African freedom cry: "A luta continua" - the struggle continues.
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"Flame is a bold, powerful, and deeply moving portrayal of the courage and complexity of Zimbabwean women freedom fighters. It depicts the real-life relationships among those engaged in national liberation struggles and of the challenge of sustaining those relationships in times of peace. This is a very impressive work."
"This tremendous film tells a story which is both unfashionable and politically incorrect in its home country...The applause for this film was the loudest at Cannes."
The Guardian (U.K.)
"A unique film that personalizes issues often overlooked - the differences between rural and urban, uneducated and educated, which emerge in post-revolutionary societies like Zimbabwe's. Anyone examining the situation of women in post-colonial countries will find Flame an accessible and engaging resource."