Slough Cooperative Film Society Slough Cooperative Film Society

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UK/France 2017 93mins

Shula Maggie Mulubwa Director Rungano Nyoni
Mr Banda Henry B.J. Phiri Writer Rungano Nyoni
Charity Nancy Mulilo Cinematographer David Gallego
Mama Margaret Sipanela Editors Yann Dedet,
Police officer Nellie Munamonga

George Cragg,
Thibault Hague
Matthew James Kelly

A fascinating mix of allegory and satire, this offbeat tale from rural Zambia is packed with wonderful characters and surreal touches. It's a story about a group of women who are marginalised as witches and treated with voyeuristic reverence. With her feature debut, Welsh-Zambian writer-director Rungano Nyoni has created a marvellous movie that might not always be easy to watch, but it sparks with artistry and originality.

When 9-year-old Shula arrives in a village, she's immediately blamed for everyone's problems, including the ongoing drought. Surely a witch, she's taken to a policewoman and then government minister Banda, who places her in a colony of witches tethered to the ground on huge spindles of white ribbon. But he quickly realises that Shula could be more valuable as a prescient figure of justice, or maybe as the maker of magical eggs he can sell on television. So he gets his ex-witch wife Charity to teach her a thing or two.

I am not a Witch poster

The story is farcical, but its underlying themes feel eerily honest. From the opening sequence, in which local and European tourists arrive to take selfies with the witches, it's clear that this isn't the usual sober look at an indigenous community. Indeed, everything is seen through the observant eyes of this curious young girl. She says very little but seems to understand clearly what all of this nonsense means, so she warily goes along with the game.

Mulubwa has a vivid presence on-screen, with such probing eyes, that it's easy to see why she freaks out this entire village. But she also has a wry sense of humour, as do most of the people she encounters. Not everyone takes this superstition so seriously, and all of the actors have a lot of fun undermining the nobility of their characters with sardonic humour or outright silliness. That said, everyone has a sense of dignity about them, except perhaps Phiri's blustering opportunist.

Where the story goes is sometimes humorous and sometimes very dark, a combination that helps highlight the central themes about bigotry toward women and the innate fear of people who aren't easy to categorise. Shula agrees to do what they tell her because she is told she will turn into a goat if she removes her restraining ribbon, but later she wonders if life might be better as a goat. “Nonsense”, one of the witches replies, “a goat just ends up being someone's dinner!”

Rich Cline at