The role of women in guerilla struggles and in post-liberation societies is depicted in a story of the women freedom fighters of the Zimbabwean liberation struggle.
Flame is perhaps the most controversial film ever made in Africa --certainly the only one to be seized by the police during editing on the grounds it was subversive and pornographic.
Ingrid Sinclair's moving tribute to women fighters in the Zimbabwean liberation struggle aroused the ire of war veterans and the military because it revealed officers sometimes used female recruits as "comfort women." Flame's real crime may have been that it exposed not just past abuses but continuing divisions within Zimbabwean society. Many of the groups which fought hardest during the freedom struggle, for example, women and peasants, have been left behind in the post-revolutionary period; for them the revolution is still not completed. Flame provides an important and by no means unambiguous case study of who will control not only the depiction of the African past but also the African present.
Director Ingrid Sinclair explains, "Fighting women are my heroes... I used the independence struggle as a metaphor for the struggle for personal independence of all women." Originally conceived as a documentary, Flame had to be made as a fiction film because none of the seven women on whose experience it was based dared discuss sexual abuse on camera. Sinclair stresses that their experience is not the whole story of the Chimurenga or liberation war: "Flame presents only the views of one group of people...Its legitimacy rests on whether it reflects that group's view rather than pretends to represent everyone's views - or worse be objective."
It is, nonetheless, not surprising that male war veterans and current military leaders like Comrade Bornwell Chakaodza, Director of Information for the Zimbabwean Defense Forces, were outraged: "The film's failure to balance the negative scenes of the freedom fighters with their resilience and values suggests an insidious attempt to make sure future generations will have no sense of their gallantry." The fact that this, the first feature film on the Chimurenga, was directed by a woman and a white woman at that (albeit a long-time supporter of the Zimbabwean struggle) must only have aggravated their resentment. Even a woman ex-combatant commented, "If the war had been about rape, we would not have fought or won it." But another supported the film: "I, Freedom Nyamubaya, was raped and that is the truth. A society which denies the truth cannot move forward." To the credit of all involved, the film was released and the directors made some minor changes. Viewers can now decide for themselves whether the finished film reflects both the successes and unfinished tasks of this crucial phase of African history.
"Flame is a bold, powerful, and deeply moving portrayal of the courage and complexity of Zimbabwean women freedom fighters. It depicts the real-life relationships among those engaged in national liberation struggles and of the challenge of sustaining those relationships in times of peace. This is a very impressive work." - Angela Davis "This tremendous film tells a story which is both unfashionable and politically incorrect in its home country...The applause for this film was the loudest at Cannes." - The Guardian (U.K.) "A unique film that personalizes issues often overlooked - the differences between rural and urban, uneducated and educated, which emerge in post-revolutionary societies like Zimbabwe's. Anyone examining the situation of women in post-colonial countries will find Flame an accessible and engaging resource." - Joel Samoff, Stanford University
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