Out on DVD and digital today via Film Movement, the Zambia set I Am Not A Witch marks the directorial debut of Rungano Nyoni, a filmmaker who should be an intriguing voice in cinema for years to come. An uncompromising mixture of satire and drama, I Am Not A Witch is a film that’s definitely worth checking out.
Shula (a memorable Maggie Mulubwa) is a nine-year-old girl sans family or friends. Being an outsider, she is accused of local villagers of being a witch, and since she is too shy to reject these claims she is sent to a witch camp run by a corrupt government official named Mr. Banda (Henry B.J. Phiri). Being the only child witch around, Shula becomes a local star and cash cow for Mr. Banda, and the fruits of her labor also spills over to added benefits (mainly in the form of alcohol) for her fellow “witches.” Living in an environment where adults are mainly profiting from her, it’s easy to see why Shula would gradually rebel at her dire circumstances.
The women at the camp are restricted by movement by a white ribbon, and Nyoni, along with cinematographer David Gallego, use this element to stunning effect. A big part of I Am Not A Witch’s success lies in the keen and immersive visual storytelling from Nyoni, and there are haunting (dare I say hauntingly poetic) compositions that may linger in your mind long after the credits roll. That being said, it’s Mulubwa’s performance that serves as the heart of I Am Not A Witch. Most of the film’s sequences are from Shula’s point of view, and for 93 minutes we become intimately invested in her journey.
I Am Not Witch has received a slew of acclaim, including a BIFA nod for “Best British Independent Film,” and a Best Directorial Debut Award at the Stockholm Film Festival. It was also the U.K.’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film, and hopefully these distinctions will continue to spotlight this excellent feature. My minor complaint regarding the DVD an audio commentary from Rungano Nyoni would have been the proverbial icing on the cake. That being said, the special features include a short interview with Ryoni as well as her 2011 short film Mwansa The Great.