One of the most revolutionary films at the Toronto Independent Film Festival this year was Tug of War from the relatively unknown autonomous region of Zanzibar. There’s never been a major movie from this island that lies just off the coast of mainland Tanzania, and certainly not one that makes communists the heroes. It’s based on socialist Adam Shafi’s award-winning novel Vuta N’kuvute about British rule in colonial Zanzibar in the 1950s, that led to the Revolution of 1964.
The colonizer tries to explain, “It’s not a matter of what I would lose, It’s a matter of what the Zanzibari’s would lose.” But Denge interrupts raising his manacled hands and says, “Our chains?...for a start?” But the colonizer angrily responds, “Chains?? We BUILT this island! The roads, the railway, global trade!” Denge completes the equation with “So you can suffocate us!” Unwilling to see the oppression, the captain smugly replies, “I’m not sure most Zanzibari’s would agree with you.”
Yasmine, in a tug of war between feelings of love and freedom, eventually helps free her lover and continues the struggle as a dedicated revolutionary woman.
Director Amil Shivji explains why he made tis movie, “I read the novel in high school and it’s been a long and tough process. Never been done before. The 1950s was not a time when we held the camera or we were in charge of the lens. So to flip the narrative, to tell a film from the perspective of the oppressed and the resilient has been very powerful for me as a filmmaker. History has always been a sight of conflict, of struggle, and by making this film we hope we are contributing to this conversation for Zanzibar’s contentious history, but also, in our present, how can Zanzibar be identified and be viewed through the mainstream lens.”
This rare revolutionary film partly funded by the likes of the Rosa Luxemborg Shiftung, World Cinema Fund, and the Goethe Institute, deserves our support and praise for making available such progressive cinema.
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