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Colette and Justin

A film by Alain Kassanda

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Alain Kassanda’s COLETTE AND JUSTIN, which recalls his grandparents’ experience of Belgian colonialism and the fight for Congolese independence, powerfully re-employs Belgian colonial footage and photographs for anti-colonial purposes. Inspired by the intellectuals of the Negritude movement (such as Aimé Césaire, David Diop and Frantz Fanon) and by Raoul Peck’s magnificent memory documentary Lumumba: Death of a Prophet, Kassanda wanted to recover history from the colonized’s perspective. His story is not the one Peck tells, but rather a necessary complement to it, and a crucial recovery of long-suppressed history.

But Kassanda lacked materials, even his own family’s memories. He wore down his grandfather Justin and his grandmother Colette with love and snacks, but he couldn’t get around the fact that the colonized had no access to film or photographs at the time. One of his solutions was to use colonial imagery, but superimpose his own narration, making the viewer aware of the positionality of film’s makers. This also permitted him to explore the complexities and ambiguities of the colonial reality; for instance, his grandfather was educated to become part of the African colonial civil service elite supporting the Belgian regime, and the visual record the family has from that time exists only because of that fact. Another was to use atrocity images—those unbearably brutal records of King Leopold’s and Belgian cruelties—sparingly and with explanation. “I had to choose between denial of history and exposing,” he told me. “Many of the kids know nothing of our history, and I had to tell them. At the same time, how would I feel if that was my hanged grandfather in the photograph? My voiceover was making amends to those whose images I used, while I also was creating a testimonial to what happened.” —IDFA

“How do you depict the impact of colonisation, decolonisation, a civil war and a destructed economy in one film? Director Alain Kassanda decided to portray his grandparents, who were both born in what was then called Zaire, and lived through all of these traumatising times. The result is a deeply personal, sometimes poetic, sometimes harrowing (hi)story of oppression, revolution, betrayal, disillusionment and love.” —Business Doc Europe

“A thoughtful debut.” —The Film Verdict

IDFA 2022

89 minutes / Color
Lingala; French / English subtitles
Release: 2023
Copyright: 2022

Subject areas:
Central Africa, Family Relations, Western Europe, Biographies, Social Movements, Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire), Politics

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