By Donatus Fai Tangem*
The Cameroonian Telefilm scene has once more been adorned by yet another AFRICAphonie production entitled “Positive living” (live and let’s live). Coming on the heels of “Nkuma” a film on female Genital Mutilation, (FGM), the awe-inspiring movie announces itself through a captivating poster design shaped like a hose shoe and hemmed by the beaming faces of mature actors and actresses.
The prominence of good old reliables like Mejame Njikang, Pa Ngalla (of the Musinga drama group fame) and the venerated Mah Fese among other fine actors and actresses foretells swell times for potential viewers.
The snappy Introduction dedicated to the memory of three Anglophone literati (Bate Besong, Kwasen Gwangwaa and Hilarious Ambe) who all lost their lives in a ghastly road accident on 8th March 2007 quickly melts out into the Preamble where the initially glamorous atmosphere of the screen is at once engulfed and transformed by the loathsome arrival of a black hearse bearing the casket of Pa Nzele. Real action commences in church after a requiem mass dedicated to the peaceful repose of the HIV/AIDS victim.
In a characteristic modernist approach, the story and plot of the film unfolds back ward from result to cause. Having projected on the likely tragic end result of negative life style the OSIWA-assisted production attempts a veritable melange that goes beyond mere panacea. In its unique triple approach, Positive living challenges current strategies of HIV/AIDS awareness campaign there by replacing these with a more practical result oriented net work that does not spare any aspect of societal structures.
Contrary to the heavily biased, near obsolete and predominantly urban based HIV/AIDS campaigns programme, this new telefilm engages a triangular experiment that harnesses the synergy of three major stake holders. Through the ingenious initiative that pools the hospital or western approach via Antiretroviral therapy (ARV), the church or religious approach via counselling and most importantly, the traditional, via herbal treatment, the film offers the HIV/AIDS victims the most hopeful avenue for a sustainable treatment.
Away from the hopeful reliance on the heavily hyped ARV trajectory, the AFRICAphonie film recycles and reshapes the humdrum of abstinence, fidelity, and condom for a forward-looking collaborative endeavour full of potentials. To drive through its hard lessons, the film highlights and juxtaposes the tragic end result of late Pa Nzele with the trembling and dangling fate of Phillip ( Ivo Boh) and Andrew (Nofuru Nshom Bali), a duo at the threshold of death. United by misery and frustration, the two victims brood over the fate that awaits them, one trying to inspire hope for both. The thought of the demise of Pa Nzele sounds as a permanent reminder of the obvious end that awaits them.
In the middle of their despair and overt despondency, Mama Agatha, (Comfort Ojongnpot) characteristic of the “deus ex machina” (a salvation tool known in Greek tradition to rescue desperate cases,) emerges with her salvation army. Her strategy which is a hybrid of the herbal treatment from Dr. Baba (Mejame Njikang Peter) combined with other traditional counselling and ancestral values, offers the most needed way forward. While administering herbs for instant treatment of opportunistic infections, Ma Agatha equally sets up traditional structures for education and counselling services where she preaches the values of virginity in abhorrence of premarital sex.
This strategy, Ma Agatha considers as a way to bar sexual excitement that urges young people into fatal adventures. As if to complement the holistic approach and inject meaning into the notion of “Positive Living”, the traditional structure of Ma Agatha highlights on practical farm work and cultivation of fruits and vegetables for healthy eating and the invaluable benefits of sporting exercise. The collage of church, tradition and western approaches offer potential viewers a very unique chance for an assessment of the effectiveness of the different parameters that are bound to interplay in health related matters and especially, HIV/AIDS.
In terms of artistic accomplishments, “Positive Living” explores the fullness of the language of image, sound and special effects all deigned to enhance the subject matter. The sweet and sad background music in its varied collection of well known religious dirges, choral music and cuts from sentimental musical gurus like Richard Kings and Ngolle Ebenzu, proffer the desired mood for the film.
The general atmosphere of the film overwhelms its viewers with heavily loaded signs and symbols that speak ominously to an attentive viewer.
Beyond what the film overtly says is a coded semiotic language, which implies much more than is evident. That is-the HIV/AIDS pandemic is real and much closer to us all is no longer an issue of debate, rather what the film achieves in its originality and informative proposal is in the words of Ma Nzele (Mah Fese) and I quote “the way forward is the multifaceted combination of all viable forces that promise success in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Actually, the film owes its immense success primarily to the mature type cast, effective location and above all picture and acting quality. In spite of some undulating sound quality and few instances of rather frantic acting, the AFRICAphonie film achieves more than its basic goals. By offering a comprehensive tool kit in the HIV/AIDS awareness campaign the film further imposes itself on the sub-consciousness of viewers entranced by the bitter reality of the scourging effect of the pandemic. The twin objectives of pity and fear compel viewers to confront with renewed courage the unavoidable life experience of hope and despair. However rather than project despair for man and society, the Director’s (Anurin Nwenembom) artistic production privileges the power of hope, not vain hope but one shaped by evidence of good results. Although the film fails to advocate the benefits of voluntary screening, it compensates that void by highlighting the values of virginity, abstinence and faithfulness for couples.
In sum the film screams for a chance in every home even as it recommends itself to viewers without restrictions to age, gender or cultural background. Under the sound command of the Executive Producer Mwalimu George Ngwane and thanks to the OSIWA support, the AFRICAphonie project offers Cameroonians a revitalising option for a more judicious and instantly beneficial attention on their screens. Rather than cling avidly to the infiltrating movies that spread teachings on evil tactics by con men, Fey mania and prostitution, this new Cameroonian movie delves into life-saving pledges and practices that offer real hope to contemporary society.
For an action pack and running time of about 93 minutes, the film trims down redundant action eliminating time buying and castigating exaggerated gesticulations.
In its concurrent treatment of hard messages and show case of a rich cultural diversity for which Cameroon and in the case of this film, the South West is known, the AFRICAphonie production emphasises once more that Cameroon and the South West is a land pregnant with human as well as natural resources. Kudos to the entire crew for a job not only well conceived and timely, but also and most importantly for a job well done.
It there fore remains with the family or every family head, within and beyond Cameroon to avail themselves of a golden chance for educative entertainment.
* Donatus Fai Tangem is a Theatre Director and Art Critic in Yaounde, Cameroon