Old home movies, newsreels and a prison diary are interwoven to link personal and public history in this assessment of human rights abuses in Guinea-Conakry.
Allah Tantou is the first African film to confront the immense personal and political costs of the widespread human rights abuses on the continent. It follows filmmaker David Achkar's search for his father, his father's search for himself inside a Guinean prison and Africa's search for a new beginning amid the disillusionment of the post-independence era. One of the most courageous and controversial films of recent years, Allah Tantou speaks in an unabashedly personal voice not often heard in African cinema.
The life of Marof Achkar, David's father, can be seen as emblematic of much recent African history. In 1958, his countryman, Sekou Touri, declared Guinea the first independent French African colony and became a hero of Pan-Africanism. Marof Achkar, a leading figure in the Ballets Africains, served as U.N. ambassador for the new government. In 1968, Achkar was suddenly recalled, charged with treason and vanished into the notorious Camp Boiro prison. His family was exiled and, only after Touri's death in 1984, did they learn of Achkar's execution in 1971.
David Achkar writes, "I knew my father was a hero, but I wanted to know what that meant." The Marof Achkar we first encounter in home movies and newsreels is a charismatic, confident performer on the world stage. The Marof Achkar glimpsed later through letters and a remarkable prison diary is a man bereft of position, identity and family; he is now simply "Number 54." But in prison, he undergoes an almost religious conversion. "It's strange," he wrote, "I've never felt so humble, insignificant and yet it is the deepest reason of my happiness: I believe it's the grace of God."
In a cinematic tradition which has privileged the calm collective voice of the griot, Allah Tantou speaks with the fragmented, uncertain rhythms of the individual conscience. Achkar juxtaposes diverse, sometimes contradictory texts - documentary, newsreel, dramatizations, photos, journals - to deny us a single, authoritative narrative space. Allah Tantou argues through its example that vigorous debate, candor and self-criticism are the pre-conditions for Africa's political and spiritual renewal.
"Wrenching as well as cathartic, it required a special kind of courage to make this film." - Philadelphia Inquirer "Better than any African film before it, Allah Tantou brilliantly redefines the documentary genre." - Manthia Diawara, New York University "Makes intense links between personal and public history...A powerful tool for reassessing the recent African past." - Black Film Review
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