Farmers’ thoughts and ideas on film

Canadian filmmaker Gerald Belkin lived and worked in Tanzania during the late 60's. His original tapes from that period are now kept at the Nordic Africa Institute’s library. For many years, the films were used for teaching and training Swedish aid-workers.
– This was the first time we could watch Tanzanian farmers unedited on film, talking about things that they themselves had chosen. Belkin didn’t’ believe in shooting film that only showed the view of the director, it was the farmers’ thoughts and ideas that were important. The Belkin tapes were the most exciting work l experienced during my thirty years at the training center, says Anna Wieslander, former director of Sida’s training center in Uppsala.

To highlight the 50 years of cooperation between Sweden and Tanzania, the Nordic Africa Institute will donate Gerald Belkin’s films, copied to DVD, to the government of Tanzania.

Anna Wieslander interviewed Gerald Belkin in 1982. Below is an extract from the article.

Did you work with video before you became interested in development issues?
I was interested in development issues before video was possible in fieldwork. The starving and oppressed millions made me upset, and by making films l could give them a voice.

Another filmmaker gave me the idea to go to Tanzania when he said there "is a guy named Nyerere who are trying to do something interesting."  
I liked the priorities of the Arusha Declaration and Nyerere's ability to express his thoughts was impressive. I did not like the massive nationalization but understood why they were important. I saw the problems of tribalism and the urgent need to create a nation state, and l even accepted the one-party state.

How did you get to start the filming?
I got permission to go out and see for myself. The first trip would be for five weeks but I returned after ten days because I could not see the Arusha Declaration applied anywhere. Then I was introduced to Millinga, a young farmer from Ruvuma’s Development Association. Millinga had experience of struggling against white missionaries to allow drums in the churches, to organize his comrades on the fields, and dealing with bureaucrats who were hostile to local associations. He suggested that I should go to Mbambara. After two days in Mbambara I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to record the villagers' experiences and show them to others.

What did you achieve with your films in Tanzania?

I think it was a good experience for the villagers even if it meant hard times for some.
People in Mbambara needed to bring about changes to come forward. Millinga also felt that the films helped the villagers to solve practical problems with the authorities.
In Tanzania, we screened the films at the university, in factories, ministries, classes for political education, at the party's headquarters and the president’s office. The films shed light on issues that people were busy dealing with and gave useful insights on farmers’ perceptions.

We also wished to influence Tanzanian filmmaking, but neither the National film company nor the ministry of information were interested. This was a loss for Tanzanian farmers.
In Sweden, our influence was limited to aid officials. Watching a twenty-hour long collection from the field in Tanzania may of course give you an intellectual and emotional experience.

What did you learn yourself?

One thing made a strong impression. Peasants, men and women, endure many hardships and are sidelined and often oppressed, but they are no less capable than we are to participate in building a democratic society.

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