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The Way of the Termite: The Essay in Cinema

Thursday, February 5, 2009
8:15 p.m. Chief!
Jean-Marie Teno (Cameroon, 1999)

(Chef!) Using his camera as a pulpit, Jean-Marie Teno delivers a “State of the Union” for his beloved Cameroon in this unblinking tour of a nation under the thumb of one overarching dictator—and millions of little ones. The military junta looms in the background, but Teno finds many examples of amateur “chiefs” as well, exploiting a Darwinian survival of the fittest. A teenage boy is nearly lynched by village vigilantes; wedding ceremonies underline the fact that, by law, the husband is chief, and the wife thereby enslaved; a respected journalist is imprisoned without trial. Corruption and thuggery from on high trickle down to those below, Teno implies, and over decades seep into the very fabric of society. Teno himself is hopeful: “To me,” he says, “we’re all chiefs,” and all equal.

—Jason Sanders

• Written, Photographed by Teno. (61 mins, In French and Bamileke with English subtitles, Color, DVCam, From the artist)

Preceded by short:
Les Maîtres fous (The Mad Priests) (Jean Rouch, France, 1955). Rouch’s remarkable short explores the possession rituals of the West African Hauka sect as a response to the madness of colonialism. (36 mins, In French with English subtitles, Color, 16mm, From Harvard Film Archive)

• (Total running time: 97 mins)