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Toulouse, Mayotte, Zambezi

by afew Wed Mar 7th, 2007 at 03:12:58 AM EST

Partances is the name of a festival held annually in Toulouse (I mentioned it last year). It's a photo-video-film festival focussed on travel, adventure, natural beauty, culture, humanity. Most of the participants are amateurs, but you'd be hard put to guess that from the quality of their offerings. I was fortunate enough to be there last Saturday for the afternoon and evening sessions. There were lots of good things to see, but I'll have to cherry-pick...

The afternoon was, for me, crowned by a short film from the French island of Mayotte, in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mozambique. The film consists almost entirely of teenagers (with a couple of brief exceptions, girls), speaking framed head-and-shoulders to the camera. About their lives, about work, family, tradition, love, sex, marriage, freedom and the lack of it. With no punches pulled, yet with grace and subtlety and a delightful sense of fun.

Mayotte is 97% Muslim. It is geographically part of the Comoros Islands, which lay claim to it, but the population has several times voted to remain a French Overseas Collectivity. There is a certain amount of confusion, if not conflict, between Islamic common law and French law. To judge by the film - entitled Munafikyano, rigividzane (Meaning, as best I understand it: Understanding (oneself, others?), enjoying life) - that split is mirrored in a cultural divide where the girls, at least these girls, are attracted by modernity and French secular mores.

Zaïna, Bourdati, Soudaya, Yaya, Moinaïdi, Zamimou, Haïra, are lycée students, yet their lives outside school are mostly made up of application to domestic tasks and confinement to home. You have to get the tasks right, they say (cue in old woman speaking in the Swahili-like local language, who says today's girls are useless and can't cook the manioc without burning it to a cinder). You clean the house, you look after younger brothers and sisters (Well, OK). Mothers are the guardians of this tradition, and their worth and honour is tied up in their capacity to bring up a daughter properly. Fathers and brothers are more distant (they're free to move about, and are out and about most of the time), but they're the bosses and they keep watch. You can't go out and have fun. You can't meet boys. If you are seen just talking to a boy, that's trouble. Your brothers spy on you. "I feel that if I even move, someone's following me." Of course, it's all about virginity. Only applies to girls, not boys, they do what they like. It drives some girls crazy so they get de-virgined in a stupid way and regret it afterwards. A boy may tell you he thinks a lot of you, but if you give in to him he'll reject you afterwards as worthless. You can be engaged to be married with someone you have never seen. Your parents can just tell you they've lined up a marriage for you, with a really old man, forty-five even, and you're supposed to put up with that.

There's not much talk about religion. The girls wear traditional head-coverings (see photos) and say they like them (however, the two who were present at the festival were dressed in jeans and tee-shirts and wore no head-covering...). It's family structure that is really what surrounds them and binds them.

Somehow, watching the girls talk and joke about these matters in a not particularly submissive way, I got a throwback feeling to the '50s and '60s in Britain. No, I'm not dreaming, I realize the difference. But the feeling is one of imminent change. These girls are in a traditional system where they are defined as daughters and sisters and future wives, sexually inexperienced but domestically practised, the property of a father and the subject of a mother before becoming that of a husband and a mother-in-law. But there's a window open and they can feel the breeze. I hope I'm right, anyway, because you can't see these girls without desperately wanting them to win.

Step back a little, and you may cool down. These are high-school students, members of a youth organisation that produced the film. They speak perfect French. Open to French influence, they represent a small group of the total population (dare I say élite?). Well, then they will be the leaven. And, at around 17, they are almost exactly at the median age of the island's population. The leaven is right in the middle of the dough.

It's hard to choose from the evening session, a technically stunning slideshow filled with magnificent portraits from Ethiopia (Patricia Ondina), and another on Japan by Alain and Evelyne Basset that we discussed with bruno-ken in his Tokyo hanami meet-up thread, were both excellent. But the final film was a knock-out.

It's called Coast to Coast and it's by two professional microlight flyers and adventurers (but amateur film-makers), Mike Blyth from Johannesburg and Olivier Aubert from Geneva. Together, they have flown trike microlight aircraft on long raids - Cape Town to North Cape, Norway, 4 months, and Buenos Aires to Cape Town via Greenland, 8 months. This time they chose to fly up from Johannesburg to the Mozambique coast and follow it up to the mouth of the Zambezi, which they then followed to cross Africa, then flying down the Namibian coast to return to South Africa.

Three months' flying, and a brilliant, fast-moving film. There are plenty of spectacular shots from the sky (here => over Victoria Falls), but it's well balanced with shooting on the ground, exchanges with people met along the way (and given a first flight!), and moments out in the bush with, in particular, all those over-populating elephants Nomad told us about ;).

As I said, the editing is snappy and the film gives off an impression of energy and chutzpah (which Blyth and Aubert can get away with thanks to their microlight flying experience). The soundtrack adds to this with some good music - not so much the percussion/electronic stuff as (beautifully surprisingly) the Frames' Star, Star (listen, Real), and a buster of a cover of Janis Joplin's Piece of My Heart by Sarah Jane Morris. (Piece of My Heart is the subtitle of the film). All in all, a big buzz.

You can find details of the expedition here along with sale of the DVD. Look here for photos. And check out this interesting page on Olivier Aubert's microlight-pioneering grandfather...

[Disclaimer: Jean-Jacques Abrial and Patricia Ondina, among the principal organizers of the festival, are friends of mine. This has no bearing (as I'm sure you'll understand :-)) on my enthusiasm for Partances. It really is a great festival.]

Beautiful diary, afew, thank you. Really interesting content as well. Toulouse is such a wonderful setting for a festival like this too :)
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 7th, 2007 at 03:36:18 AM EST
Thank you for this diary... It brings a bit of hope in our petty ways of living.
We should always be "en partance" (on the leave), as a static voyager :-)

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman
by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Wed Mar 7th, 2007 at 08:00:55 AM EST

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