On location, Zululand: the making of Siliva the Zulu, 1927. A Villon Films Publication. See www.villonfilms.ca
Misanthropology : the makers of Siliva the Zulu. Unpublished manuscript
Currently available two versions : 60 mins. and 96 mins., both b&w, with English intertitles and an extra-diegetic music track. The music track of the original 96 minute version is lost, while a music of modern African music has been added to the shorter version by the distributor.
Source : DVDs distributed by Villon Films (Vancouver) www.villonfilms.com
This film is an ethnodrama shot over two months in June and July 1927 in a Zulu community in the region of Eshowe, then the administrative capital of Zululand. The ‘artistic director’ and person generally in charge of the production was Attilio Gatti (1896-1969), an adventurer from a wealthy Milanese family, with a distinguished First World War military record but few qualifications. The film was shot by a professional cameraman, Giuseppe Vittroti (1890-1974), who is credited as ‘technical director’. There was also a ‘scientific director’, Lidio Cipriani (1892-1962), a professor of physical anthropology from the University of Florence, whose role appears to have been to act as a guarantor of the scientific probity of the film.
Gatti had originally intended to make a fictional adventure film involving the capture of a white woman by Zulus, and had even brought two white actors to South Africa with him for this purpose. When this was prohibited by the South African censor on account of the on-screen contact between black and white people that it would entail, Gatti resolved to make a film involving an all-Zulu cast instead, even though most of the actors would have had little or no contact with urban society and would therefore probably never have been to the cinema.
The film that eventually emerged is structured around an entirely fictional melodramatic ‘love-triangle’ story, but this is interwoven with sequences of everyday life and custom, including the daily work of tending the herds, the construction of houses, plus a variety of sequences of family life, divination, public oratory and stick-fighting. Particularly impressive is the sequence of a marriage ceremony close to the beginning of the film.
Although the film was enthusiastically received by critics when it was first released in Milan in 1928, box office returns were poor and it closed very quickly. As a silent film, it was difficult for it to attract audiences excited by the recent release of the first ‘talkies’. The film disappeared and was considered lost until it was rediscovered in the 1990s by the film-maker Peter Davis, director of Villon Films which now distributes the film.
Although it is very difficult to disentangle the authentic elements from the superimposed European fantasy elements, in the almost complete absence of any other films from that time (the brief sequence in Chez les buveurs du sang being one of very few exceptions), this film, provided it is interpreted critically, represents a very valuable ethnographic record of Zulu life in the 1920s.
This entry is a stub and will be developed later.
Robert Sutherland Rattray – more commonly known as ‘R.S. Rattray’ and sometimes simply as ‘Captain Rattray’ – was a British colonial civil servant who wrote a number of important early ethnographic works on the Ashanti, the most illustrious of the traditional states within what was then the British colony of the Gold Coast and is now Ghana.
Rattray also shot some modest black and white footage, probably in 1921, of an adae ceremony, in which the spirits of deceased Ashanti rulers are propitiated and asked for favours. He also shot footage of people on mpadua rafts on the sacred Lake Bosumtwi.
2:06 mins (Baby-Pathé version), b&w, silent – French titles and intertitles
Source : Stephendelroser playlist
A reportage film that shows a short playlet involving masked dancers as performed by the Dogon of the Bandiagara Escarpment in what is now Mali, but was then still the French Soudan (hence the title of the film).
Although the interpretation of the meaning of the playlet is dubious, the film offers some interesting shots of Dogon masks, including the Hare mask, above (erroneously identified in the film as being of a ‘little monkey’).
The film-maker, J. Lejards was a Pathé cameraman who made various films in West Africa, and also later in Cambodia and Andorra. This film was clearly shot on the same occasion as Les Danses Habés, which shows the masked dancing performed at a dama, the ceremony to bring a period of mourning to an end. In the background in Danses soudanaises, one can see the kanaga masks, in the shape of a double-armed cross, that are a defining feature of the dama ceremony (see the image above).
The Stephendelroser website dates this film to 1915, but it seems very unlikely that a Pathé cameraman such as Lejards would have been making films on ethnographic topics in West Africa at the height of the First World War.
Rather more likely is that it would have been shot in the early 1920s, at the same time as Lejards was shooting a number of other films in West Africa, including La Ville de Djenné (1921). Djenné is also in what then the French Soudan, and is only about 200 kms by road from the Bandiagara Escarpment where this film was shot. Even with the transport available at the time, it is easy to imagine Lejards moving from one location to the other.