Dec. 7, 2023

On December 5, Prof. Nicola Cooney’s class, POR 310 “The Sweet Pain of Saudade”, had a very special conversation with film director Fábio Ribeiro, who joined via zoom from Inhambane, Mozambique. His presentation provided an overview of Mozambican cinema from the Salazarist propaganda films of the colonial period, through the post-independence Marxist newsreels of Kuxa Kanema and the cinema móvel, to the work of today’s generation of filmmakers with its new and dissonant voices. Born in Lisbon in 1982, he gave us a very personal insight into growing up in a community of retornados – the more than half a million returnees (mostly, but not only, white settlers) who fled to Portugal from the former African colonies after the independences of 1975, which was the catalyst for his current project.

The conversation then focused on his powerful and thought-provoking work, Mulungo Memories, a richly palimpsestic and polyvocal film that uses Super 8 home videos taken by Portuguese three families during the colonial period to explore what Ribeiro calls, “History from below, through micro-histories with a small h”. He discussed his artistic process and the urgency of preserving and revisiting such artifacts and memories, of exploring the irreconcilable and contradictory feelings of guilt and belonging of a dying generation, not to “prove a point” but rather to “explore freely” for future generations. Mulungo Memories is the first in what will be a trilogy: Mulungo, Mulato, Mulundi.

In the words of a student in the class, Rodrigo Gallardo ’24: “Fábio Ribeiro joined us to share the context and process of, and answer questions about his wonderful documentary, “Mulungo Memories”. Among other ideas (like memories and how they are recorded), his film and presentation explored the nuances of “home” for colonists, particularly those born in colonized lands. As the son of retornados, his return to Mozambique was intensely personal, making both his film and his presentation all the more captivating. Having him join us gave us access to a trove of privileged information that deepened my understanding of his film and colonial Mozambique more generally. Some of the more memorable stories he shared included how he coincidentally came across the different sets of 8mm film that became central to the documentary and why he decided to include a curious scene of himself recording his face with an old TV, mirroring his image recursively in the background. It was truly a pleasure to have him join us and I look forward to his next project, “Mulato”.