In a cinematic career spanning four-plus decades Sana Na N’Hada has borne
witness to the best and the worst times in Guinea-Bissau.
He joined Amilcar Cabral’s revolutionary army in the heady days of the war for
independence. In the restive years following self-rule he set about making
evocative films that, at their very best, captured and challenged the prevailing
zeitgeist. Today, approaching his 65th year, undiminished and evermore
imaginative, he is still hard at work shedding light on the political and social
realities in his homeland.
N’Hada’s latest film Kadjike (Sacred Bush), 2014, is set on the pristine shores of
the Bijagos Archipelago, and follows the lives and rituals of the islanders as they
face up to the threat of drug traffickers in their midst.
In the past decade Guinea-Bissau has become the key transit hub for cocaine
trading between Latin America and Europe. The Bijagos Archipelago, a sprawling
mass of largely uninhabited islands, has been the focal point of trafficking activity
in the country that has turned it into what some observers call a “narco-state’.
On a simple level Kadjike is a coming of age drama. On a deeper level it is a
meditation on the schism between traditional Guinean customs and the rising tide of
modernity – something which has been a constant theme throughout N’Hada’s
On the eve of his initiation into adulthood Ankina is torn between his responsibilities
to his people and his love for a girl with whom custom forbids a relation. Drug
traffickers, promising a better life in the city, lure his boyhood friend Toh away
from the island. Facing important decisions at the crossroads of their young lives,
both boys must find a way out of their predicaments – a way back to their people.
The poignancy of this film lies in the juxtaposition between the natural beauty of the
archipelago and the imminent dangers that lurk in the shadows of this fragile world.
“I want to show people why the natural beauty of my country is so important and
why we need to stand together to prevent our nation and culture from harm,’
Kadjike is only N’Hada’s second feature film. His first, Xime (1994), follows the
struggles of a rice peasant confronted with losing his influence over his two sons
during the fight for independence.
In the intervening years N’Hada has flirted with both documentaries and shorts.
Despite his minimal output he is arguably one of the most important filmmakers on
the continent today and has long been regarded, along with his contemporary Flora
Gomes, as a titan of Guinean cinema. Both are credited with producing the first
ever fiction film (Mortu Nega, 1988) to be made in Guinea-Bissau.
N’Hada’s career in cinema began during his days as a revolutionary in Amilcar
Cabral’s independence movement. He was taught first aid to help out at the local
field hospitals, and with the remaining part of his time he went from village to
village to educate the people about the fight for independence. It was during this
time that he began to turn his back on his medical studies in favour of cinema. At
the behest of Cabral he travelled to Havana along with Gomes, studying under the
auspices of legendary Cuban cinematographer Santiago Àlvarez.
Upon his return to Guinea-Bissau he rejoined Cabral’s movement and set about
documenting the war of independence on film.
“I didn’t come into cinema because of talent but because I felt obligated to tell
certain stories. There has always been a question of necessity,’ N’Hada says.
In 1976, shortly after independence, N’Hada co-directed two short films with
Gomes: The Return of Cabral and Anos No Assa Luta – both tributes to the
revolution and to their great political icon, Cabral.
His life-long friendship and collaborations with Gomes has produced some seminal
works in the canon of Guinean cinema. His greatest recognition however has come
in the form of Sans Soleil, a documentary collaboration with French filmmaker Chris
Marker. Shot in the early eighties, it was recently voted one of the top five best
documentaries ever made.
As well as Gomes and Chris Marker, N’Hada counts celebrated Senegalese
filmmaker Sembene Ousmane and Cuba’s Santiago Àlvarez among his great
Despite all the uncertainty facing his country today N’Hada remains hopeful about
the future. As we speak, he is already turning his mind to his next feature, a film
documenting the positive effects of independence in his homeland.
With Luta Ca Caba Inda (The Struggle is Not Over Yet), an ongoing project first
shown in 2012, N’Hada may yet bequeath his most profound legacy to Guinean
cinema. Along with Gomes he has set out to find and make accessible the remains
of raw film material made in the country after independence but either lost or
damaged in the era of political upheaval.
For a man who has seen so much and lived through such uncertain times it is
perhaps the defining point of reference for his dedication to his country and his
people that he has found time, since 1979, to head the National Institute of Cinema
Kadjike, Sana Na N’Hada, Guinea-Bissau, 2013, duration 115 min, production LX
Films(Screened at Film Africa London, November 2014)
– Anne Laerke Koefoed