At the Well blog


Matthias de Groof on Decolonisation at Tampere Film Festival

Kone Foundation organised a discussion between researchers and film makers at Tampere Film Festival. How can cinema handle the topic of decolonisation? Be used as a weapon in decolonisation? 

Researcher Matthias de Groof from the Collegium for Advanced Studies in Helsinki held a presentation where he reflected his research themes with a film screening on decolonization & neocolonialism. Kindly, he shared his notes.


Thank you all for attending these screenings. I’d also like to thank the Kone Foundation, which hosts this discussion, and which allowes me to be here in Finland where I’m researching the iconography of Patrice Lumumba (the first prime minister of independent Congo) in the Arts. Why Lumumba? Because his assassination – the neocolonial act par excellence – becomes a symbol of a failed decolonization.

“Decolonization” is also the theme which connects these film according to the program. It is the category under which these very different films are brought (by the festival programmers and not by the filmmakers).

I was asked to tell you something about the connection between both cinema and decolonization in five minutes. In other words, I’ll be inevitably very reductive, and in the interest of time, I’ll limit myself to two moments, and discuss the current program in relation to these moments.


The first one being the birth of cinema itself. Cinema was born at the height of colonialism, at the end of the 19th century. Both cinema and colonialism carried out the idea that the world is at our disposal, that the world is available to us. Concretely, the first cameras were sent out to the colonies to bring home images that showed how much ‘these peoples were in need of a civilizing mission’; and make images which served propaganda films to colonize the minds: in the colonies as well as in the “metropole”. Sometimes, they would even use the same films.


The second moment is the use of cinema to decolonize. To use Audrey Lorde’s words… to use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. Cinema, one of the weapons of colonialism, was adopted and adapted by the Third Cinema of Solanas, Gettino and Glauber Rocha; by the anti-colonial cinema of René Vautier, Chris Marker and William Klein; by the African cinemas of Med Hondo, Ousmane Sembene and Haile Gerima; by Gerima’s L.A. Rebellion, and why not mentioning Afro-futurism? Some consider Black Panther to be the latest manifestation of this moment. Although the film allows the spectator to ask the question ‘what if African was never colonized?’ (Achilles Mbembe)[1], the film however reiterates lots of colonial tropes and myths.[2]


The series which we just saw is labelled as decolonial but seems to leave the militant, engaged, or AK47 aesthetics of the second moment. Except for Tshweesh, which deals with the violence inflicted by the colonial state of Israel, the films do not target tangible violent economic and/or military interventionism. Neither do they seem to decolonize cinema itself (from the processes of film production, to distribution and reception). The term “colonialism” (or “neo-colonialism” for that matter), with which the films are supposedly engaging – then becomes a mere metaphor. It becomes a – nevertheless strong – metaphor for “power”. If the films attempt to decolonize anything at all, it would be epistemic, rather than historic; it would be coloniality, rather than colonialism, it would be the colonial present, rather that the colonial past. They invite you to “see the world from below” – as Robert Young puts postcolonialism. “Decolonization”, then, implies changing your perspective and point of view. (When this change occurs in the world outside of the movie theatres, it can often be violent.) “Postcolonialism”, finally, becomes a lens which allows to look intersectionally at issues such as ecology and gender (in the black line and Kampung Tapir, for instance); the issues of labor (in The Project and The Caregiver), and the issues of race and class (cf. Interiors & Exteriors, The Caregiver, amongst others).




Dr. Matthias de Groof

dr. Matthias De Groof has a strong interest in film theory and film making, Congo and (post)colonialism. He is a master in Philosophy (KUL), International Relations (UCL) and Cinema Studies (UA). He studied African Studies at UMU (Uganda) and became a Fulbright and BAEF visiting scholar at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. His PhD in Cinema Studies looked at African cinema through the oeuvre of Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Pierre Bekolo. As a Postdoctoral Fellow of the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO), he studied postcolonial film theory at the Antwerp University where he also teaches World Cinema, Aesthetics (Philosophy of Art) and Curating & Exhibiting. His scholarly work has been published in Third Text, Columbia University Press and Image [&] Narrative amongst others. He is regularly asked to talk and write in non-academic contexts and to curate film programs. His own films have been presented i.a. at the Rotterdam Film Festival, Media City and the San Francisco Art Institute. Currently, he is affiliated to the Collegium for Advanced Studies in Helsinki and part of Cobra Films Production.