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VISIONS DU RÉEL 2021 Competition

Review: Zinder

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- Aïcha Macky’s documentary is a harsh, brave account of gang life in Kara Kara, the pariahs’ district of the titular Nigerien town

Review: Zinder

Zinder-born activist, academic and filmmaker Aïcha Macky returns to her native region to document the social devastation of Kara Kara, the pariahs’ district of the titular Nigerien town. Zinder [+see also:
trailer
interview: Aïcha Macky
film profile
]
is one of the films taking part in this year’s International Feature Film Competition of Nyon’s Visions du Réel film festival.

Zinder is a wind-swept town in the heart of the Sahel region. Kara Kara in particular is a place for the neglected, where unemployment is sky high and there are no future perspectives in sight. Said environment is a fertile ground for gangs to grow. Here, the local cartels, referred to as the “Palais”, have sprung up and are spreading their influence throughout the town. From the beginning, the documentary shows the way these gang members are obsessed by a toxic culture of bodybuilding and violence.

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Among the many characters taking part in the documentary, Macky chooses to focus on three of them. The first is a man nicknamed Siniya Boy, initially depicted while riding a motorbike and waving an improvised flag displaying swastikas and Hitler’s name. As surreal and twisted as it may look, we soon find out that even their HQ is named after the dictator and the gang has a distorted idea about his biography, as Hitler is believed to be American and a sort of legendary “invincible warrior”. The second subject is Bawo, a former boss turned taxi driver, who reveals how his scalp was split open during a gang fight. In one of his loud monologues while driving his taxi, Bawo explains how an NGO helped him change his life through a 18-month rehabilitation programme. Volunteers often asked him: “Why all the violence?” The tragic destiny of Zinder, as obvious as it may sound, is all in his answer: “Lack of work. We have nothing to do, nothing to eat.” Finally, Macky explores the life of Ramsess, an intersex Palais member who, following a troubled childhood, is now struggling for survival like everyone else.

There is a clear desire for many Zinderians to break free and to put an end to this spiral of cruelty, but we also get a sense that this violence is embedded and now irremediably part of their identity. In this context, freedom is difficult – if not impossible – to achieve without making ends meet and concrete efforts to rebuild Nigerien society.

This piece, elegantly shot by director of photography Julien Bossé (The Fruitless Tree), proves Macky’s great courage in delving into a patriarchal African society where the motto “canis canem edit” still rules the streets. Through her plain storytelling, she succeeds in revealing these people’s survival strategies. Bossé’s camera captures the dusty, chaotic streets of Zinder with a number of well-crafted wide shots and does not hesitate to show – from a very close distance – the dirt, the shabby dwellings, the petrol cans, the scars, the wounds and the looks of someone who has being going through too much in their life.

Zinder was produced by Niger’s Production Tabous, France’s Point-du-Jour and Les films du Balibari and Germany’s Corso Film, in co-production with Arte France and Al Jazeera Documentary and in association with South Africa’s STEPS for the Generation Africa project, a collection of 25 short, medium and feature documentary films from 16 African countries. Its international sales have been entrusted to AndanaFilms.

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