Documentary | 2008 | 75 minutes
Camera: Jean-Marie Teno and Moussa Diakite
Sound: Lardia Thombiano
Music: Ben's Belinga and Marianne Entat
Editor: Christiane Badgley
Produced and directed by Jean-Marie Teno
A films du Raphia production | Co-produced by ZDF/ARTE
A voyage in search of the illusion of modernity, which haunts Cameroonian society.
A Trip to the Country questions, sometimes ironically, the notion of development associated in Africa with a “tropical modernity” which can be summarized as follows: Everything from Europe is modern, while all things local are archaic and must be discarded.
After the ravages of slavery and colonialism, the African continent now faces another threat: educational systems, which perpetuate inferiority complexes and dependence vis-à-vis the West. This self-destructive mentality also establishes a social hierarchy placing “modern” city dwellers above “backward” rural people.
A Trip to the Country is a personal reflection on our obsession with modernity, our desire to conform to a certain model of “development”, which ironically turns our backs on the possibility of real progress, and perpetuates our dependency to Humanitarian “so-called” aid.
- Forum Section of the Berlinale 2000 (Germany)
- Visions du Reel 2000 Nyon (Switzerland)
- Toronto International Film Festival 2000
- JCC 2000 in Tunis (Tunisia)
- Vues D’Afriques Montreal 2001
- IDFA 2001 Amsterdam
- FESPACO 2001 (BURKINA FASO)
- Documenta 11 (2002) in Kassel (Germany)
‘A trip to the country’ is a distinctive sociopolitical travelogue for inquisitive fests and edutube auds.
This trip to the filmmaker’s past becomes a vision of his country’s possible future, and the delicate balance between past and future that informs so many African films find here a stirring new expression.
Teno makes of the road movie a powerful social critique. Blending the forms of the essay film, the travelogue, the road movie, and the exposé, Teno puts the promises of European modernity to the test by taking his camera from Yaoundé to its outlying villages. Following the travels of his youth, Teno asks what has become of the African village that modernity meant to replace with all the trappings of European-style development?
Teno does not give us a simple indictment of the broken promises of European values nor of African independence and modernization. In mapping his own youthful journeys, he also explores the transformation of his own hopes and dreams and the degree to which he too expected something different than what he uncovers today.
Teno, himself, describes an educational system that inculcated Africans of his generation with the notion that “Africa must change her mentality to become modern.” By beginning his journey in Yaoundé, at his old high school (named after French General Leclerc), Teno confronts the seductiveness of European values for an entire generation of Africans, himself included. His meditations on the question of the modern in Africa lead the viewer through the complex balance of lived reality in Cameroon today. We see change, “development,” and technology, but are forced to ponder their cultural, practical legacy in the uneven and unjust form in which these have been implemented, abandoned mid-project, or left without larger support structures. So, in one village, we find running water, but no electricity, and in the village across the river, we find electricity, but no viable source of commerce or connection to other communities. Even the modern highway that connects the villages to the big cities throws up roadblocks, as unpaid soldiers man unofficial tollbooths along the route.
Through poetic voice-over reflection and interviews with villagers and local officials, A Trip to the Country explores how Cameroonians have responded to these uneven developments and the ways in which petty bureaucrats (in one particularly hilarious, and vexing sequence with the sub-prefect of Ebebda) take on the rhetoric of “tropical modernity” without allowing themselves to be held responsible for full change under those terms: “Running water by the year 2000? We can’t be expected to plan two years in advance.” So, if village life has been disrupted by the broken promises of development and the city of the future has not yet arrived, where does that leave Cameroonians?