Mpenzi is a one-night only celebration of films by black women. It’s a grab bag of works from around the world, many by queer filmmakers and locals.
The half-hour 2000 doc Forbidden Fruit is a strange amalgam of formats. Basically, an onscreen narrator tells us the true story of two lesbians – one, a married woman – whose affair is discovered in small-town Zimbabwe. The simple direct address to camera is interrupted by weirdly staged reenactments set in the homes and markets where their story actually took place. All very low budget and hardscrabble, but how often are you going to hear this kind of story or get a sense of rural life in Zimbabwe? Luckily, co-director Sue Malawa Bruce’s presence is nothing short of charming and her breathless retelling of the tale draws you in and keeps you watching until the enigmatic conclusion.
One of the best works screening is a 1994 doc from the UK on World War II veterans, a group of Caribbean women who volunteered for the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service), basically doing clerical work in England at the end of the war. This group of feisty trailblazers have kept in touch over the years. Footage of one of their reunions is augmented by fake archival footage of beautiful young women in uniform and voice-overs detailing the condescending and racist attitudes of the UK war office.
The women’s sense of identity is worlds away from ours: black women who call England the “mother country,” proud of their class, oblivious to the colour barriers they broke and almost willfully ignorant of history (one admits to not knowing until recently that slavery ever existed in Jamaica). And yet it’s clear these haughty dreamers are the type of people who change history, who set the stage for our contemporary struggles.
Other films on offer include Eden’s Wake, Sarah Michelle Brown’s 15-minute drama about a woman who is given HIV by her cheating lover, Surrounded By Water, a quirky little short on identity from Xtra contributor Michele Clarke and Helen McKnight’s spirited short, Excuse Me, Sir, on culturally bound notions of beauty. The three-hour program ends with a filmmaker panel.