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For decades, Swiss traveller René Gardi (1909-2000) explained the African continent and its inhabitants to us. In books, television programs and films, he waxed poetic about the beautiful naked “savages” and the pre-modern era in which they apparently lived. This supposedly idyllic world became Gardi’s paradise, as Africa was transformed into a projection screen for the desires of the audience back home.

The film AFRICAN MIRROR tells the story of our problematic image of Africa using materials from Gardi’s archive, whose ambivalent pictures mirror our European self-conception in myriad ways. The film reveals image production as a form of colonialism and shows how we have refused to truly look into this mirror to this very day.

 
 

Directors Statement

Over the course of prolonged stays in West Africa, I became aware of my own personal entanglement in prejudices and clichéd images regarding Africa. Among other visits, I spent seven months in Burkina Faso, where I realised imagefilms for an NGO. Assuming the role of the white filmmaker in a country whose history and culture I was only superficially familiar with frequently made me feel uneasy. I became sensitised to images of Africa and their communication through media. 

 

I recalled the presence of René Gardi’s Africa books in my parental home during my childhood. For decades, Swiss traveller and author René Gardi (1909-2000) explained the African continent and its inhabitants to us. In countless books, television and radio programmes and films, he waxed poetic about the beautiful naked savages and the pre-modern era in which they supposedly lived. Gardi’s tales were met with great interest far beyond the borders of the German-speaking countries. His books were translated into dozens of languages, and his films were shown on television in Japan and Great Britain. For his documentary film MANDARA, which screened in the competition section of the Berlin International Film Festival in 1960, Gardi received a Special Mention.

 

Then I learned of the existence of René Gardi’s artistic estate, which had yet to be assessed in earnest to any extent: an archive featuring diaries, letters, newspaper articles, rolls of film, reels of audio recordings and over 30,000 photographs, the majority of which had never been published. We were able to acquire the entire estate and hand it over to the State Archive of Bern. As such, I had unimpeded access to the archive and thus began my research.

 

Gardi’s Africa was subjective and constructed. The scenes in his films were often meticulously staged, in order to eliminate any traces of “modernity”. Life in the big cities was deliberately ignored. This view of Africa says a lot about Europe. It speaks to the existence of a yearning for bygone simple, pastoral times far removed from any hint of industrialisation. At the same time, it testifies to a desire to break out of conservative societies and find another form of freedom. The freedom of white people was based on the enslavement of black people. As soon as the African states became independent, that is, as soon as their inhabitants gained their own freedom, whites in Africa no longer felt free. 

 

It is remarkable that René Gardi himself never treated these contradictions in his work. I wonder whether he was aware of them? From Gardi’s point of view, Africa was the land of freedom, Africans were true democrats, whose farmsteads obviously needed to be burned to the ground however whenever they refused to pay colonial taxes. Gardi did not conceive of himself as part of the problem in this regard. He saw himself as an observer who captured the truth in the most authentic manner possible.

 

René Gardi enabled Europeans to dream of adventure and freedom at a time when most individuals were not in a position to undertake travels of that nature. Many people in Switzerland got to know Africa through Gardi. It is as if he created colonies for Switzerland with his work. Switzerland’s relationship to colonialism is often described today as “colonialism without the colonies”. Switzerland itself never possessed colonies, but it did profit financially from trade with the colonial powers. The making and selling of images, as practiced by Gardi, was also an important component of this other type of colonialism. To date there has been no critical examination of Gardi’s work – time and again we have succumbed to our romantic infatuation instead.

 

My film AFRICAN MIRROR is composed almost entirely of pictorial, sound and text documentation drawn from René Gardi’s archive. In assembling the materials into a montage, I have attempted to lay bare the contradictions and conflicts within this archive. Sound and image are set in a new relation with one another – the pictures begin to think for themselves.

 

The film AFRICAN MIRROR tells the story of our image of Africa. The West’s image of Africa is determined by its own self-perception. One sees one’s self in the other. Every society has a need for images of the other in order to arrive at its own identity. I believe that Gardi’s work is not about Africa and Africans, but instead that it says something about us and our history. Or to express it in the words of Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe: “That which we refer to as ‘Africa’ is a collection of desires, longings and naive fantasies – which are promoted, disseminated and cultivated.”

 

News

 

 

Festivals:

Berlinale Forum (World Premiere)
Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival (International Competition)
Dokumentarfilmwoche Hamburg

Docaviv Tel Aviv International Documentary Festival (Depth of Field Competition)

Freiburger Filmforum

dokKa Dokumentarfestival Karlsruhe

International Film Festival Cinematik Piešťany

Kino Visions Festival Marseille

Mostra São Paulo International Film Festival (New Filmmakers Competition)

Lagos Archival Film Festival

Viennale Vienna International Film Festival

Französische Filmtage Tübingen/Stuttgart

IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (Best of Fests)



more Festivals to be announced soon.
Swiss theatrical release: 14.11. 2019


Press:

 

„A portray of a well-meaning racist-filmmaker. Top 10 of Berlinale 2019.“

Olaf Möller, Mubi

 

„Hedinger illuminates what is artfully obscured in colonial ethnography. European motives. AFRICAN MIRROR is an important readjustment of focus, which will certainly throw up many questions and discussions.“

Fenja Akinde-Hummel, The Upcoming


„Strong.“
Berlinale critic’s jury - critic.de
Andrey Arnold (Die Presse), Dunja Bialas (artechock), Hannes Brühwiler (critic.de), Kevin B. Lee (alsolikelife)

„An eye-opening documentary essay.“

Carlota Moseguí, Cineuropa

„A work of cinematographic field research. It is about the transcontinental history of media, their means of production and how in 20th-century Switzerland both were influenced significantly by one flamboyant character. African Mirror does indeed function as a mirror which equally serves to reflect on present-day images of Africa .“

Dorothee Wenner, Berlinale Forum

„The strategy with which Hedinger uses Gardi's material not only turns the African continent into a mirror, it also illustrates how the cinematic medium can be used to manipulate and influence consciousness.“
Kalliopi Pouthouroglou, Cinephilia.GR

„This film offers a rare opportunity to reflect on the function of images between mediation and enslavement.“
Mathieu Li-Goyette, Panorama-Cinema

„Hedinger unravels what is behind words and intentions by opposing image and narration.“
Ramon Rey, Cinemaldito
 

„In seiner brillanten Montage aus Gardis eigenem Archivmaterial, Texten wie Bildern, verzichtet Mischa Hedinger auf jeglichen Kommentar und lässt stattdessen das Material über und gegen seinen Macher sprechen. Ein auf so vielen Ebenen souveräner Film.“
Hannah Pilarczyk, Spiegel Online

„Der Film ist gescheit gemacht, weil er Gardis Afrikabild mit den eigenen Waffen entlarvt: eine Demontage durch Montage.“
Pascal Blum, Tages-Anzeiger

„Ein ungemein kluger, mehrfach verspiegelter Essay zum postkolonialen Selbstverständnis der Schweiz.“
Florian Keller, Wochenzeitung WOZ

„Ein fulminanter Dokumentarfilm."
Caroline Fetscher, Tagesspiegel

„Einige der klügsten Filme sind bei der diesjährigen Berlinale solche, die sich mit Afrika befassen. Wie eben "African Mirror", in dem der Schweizer Filmemacher Mischa Hedinger das Lebenswerk seines Landsmanns Gardi kritisch aufbereitet und auseinandernimmt.“
Philipp Stadelmaier, Süddeutsche Zeitung

„Überragend“
Swantje Karich, Die Welt

„René Gardi als Relikt aus der Vergangenheit abzutun, scheint eine allzu bequeme Lösung, die ignoriert, wie wenig sich bis heute oft geändert hat."
Michael Meins, Tageszeitung Taz

„Hedingers afrikanischer Spiegel reflektiert unbequemerweise unsere Blickwünsche zurück auf uns selbst. (…) Solche Demontagen und Selbstentlarvungen von Subtexten der Macht kann man übrigens sehr wohl auch genießen. Sie sind nämlich intelligent, selten, und sehr witzig.“
Friederike Anders, Urbanfilm
 

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Credits 

Screenplay, direction, editing

Mischa Hedinger

Dramaturgy, editing

Philipp Diettrich

Speaker (René Gardi)

Markus Amrein

Speaker

Rachel Braunschweig

Music 

Machinefabriek (Rutger Zuydervelt)

Scientific consultants

Felix Rauh

Gaby Fierz

Colour correction and post-production assistance

David Röthlisberger

Sound design 

Fabian Gutscher

Daniel Hobi

 

Voice-over recording and mixing

Daniel Hobi

Subtitles

Peter Jud

Pierre Soltermann

Archive

Staatsarchiv des Kantons Bern

 

Consulting and assistance (archive)

Silvia Bühler

 

Digitalisation (photographs)

Lea Ritter

 

State archivist 

Barbara Studer Immenhauser

 

Digitalisation (film)

Lichtspiel / Kinemathek Bern

Brigitte Paulowitz

Christine Gissler

Eliane Antonia Maurer

David Landolf

 

Media documentation (SRF archive)

Corina Zuber

 

Music licensing

Claudio Bucher

 

Graphic design

Lars Egert

 

Production

Simon Baumann

ton und bild GmbH

 

Production assistance

Kathrin Gschwend

 

In co-production with 

SRF Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen

Redaktion Urs Augstburger

With the generous support of

Berner Filmförderung

Kulturfonds Suissimage

Ernst Göhner Stiftung

éducation 21 I Filme für eine Welt

Burgergemeinde Bern

Staatsarchiv des Kantons Bern

MEDIA Desk Suisse

Ministerium für Kultur und Wissenschaft

des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen

Atelierstipendium Städtekonferenz

 
 

Contact

 

 

Production company

ton und bild GmbH

Simon Baumann

Kontrollstrasse 26

2503 Biel

Switzerland

simon@tonundbild.ch

+41 78 770 20 83

www.tonundbild.ch