Last night was the premiere in Abidjan of a new documentary on Young Jin Choi, former head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast (2007-2011). The producer also claimed it was the first documentary on the Ivorian post-election crisis. As usual, the premiere started late in the reasonably full conference hall at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
It’s interesting to see the contrast between cultural events organised by the government and ones organised by others. The same director Idrissa Diabate had shown a new documentary on the Ivorian botanist, Laurent Ake Assi, at the Institut Goethe a few months back. There, the creative piece was centre stage – as ever, there are brief, often off-the-cuff speeches and then we all enjoy the film. At government events, the dignitaries get centre stage – so much so that the director himself almost wasn’t included in the ‘photo de famille’ (family photo) at the end of the event. Things rarely start on time, you get long speeches in which everything is the best it could possibly be in the best of all possible worlds. Then comes the film as a sort of post-script, and there is very little critical appreciation.
For the record, Choi, a South Korean diplomat, arrived in 2007 and did a reasonable job of gaining the confidence of all sides. His big moment came after the second round of voting in 2010 when it was clear to everyone that Gbagbo had lost. Gbagbo made his infamous attempt at doing a Mugabe/Kibaki – losing an election and staying in post, while Choi affirmed that Alassane Ouattara had won the election. Choi played a key role in the subsequent crisis, UN helicopters eventually intervening during the final days of fighting in Abidjan.
Anyway, on to the film. Sadly it was a big disappointment. A colleague told me afterwards that after the 55 minute showing she hadn’t learned one new thing. I felt the same. A diplomat I spoke to afterwards who wasn’t here during the crisis, told me that he thought anyone who didn’t know the Ivorian crisis in detail wouldn’t have understood a thing. So the documentary seems to have achieved the rare feat of being too complex for new-comers and too shallow for those who’ve followed the crisis. There was a serious fault of story-telling here. Not only was the narrative difficult to follow, jumping about, from comments about Choi to commentary on the crisis, but interviewing lacked interrogation and all contributors were accepted at face value. I felt there was too much background on the negotiations and far too little detail on Choi himself.
Technically the film had few faults, though it was far from exceptional and some of the interview framings were very odd. Looking back it’s hard to remember a single memorable image or moment. The music was good (as often with Diabate) and the highlights were the interviews with Ibrahim Sy Savane and Choi’s personal secretary.
Overall, it leaves me a bit worried. Ivorian culture needs to aim a lot higher. In the world of the web good material is in easy reach and its not hard to come across benchmark examples. We need intellectuals and creative types who can ask big questions, occupy space that is separate from the politicians and their camps, and touch on universal themes that will take Ivorian art to a wider audience. Of course, it’s getting increasingly easy to take good photographs and film pretty images, but the craft of story-telling and production is a completely different skill. Another opportunity missed here.