With all this talk about the deep historical links between Africa and Latin America, it’s easy to overlook the fact that there is also a Latin Africa. Yeah, you heard right: in addition to the obvious Portuguese influence up and down the continent’s Atlantic and Indian coasts, the Spanish empire also managed to carve out a tiny foothold smack dab in the middle of west central Africa. With a modest population of 1.2 million, Equatorial Guinea is an ethnically diverse nation made up of different Bantu peoples along with descendants of migrants from neighboring countries originally brought by the Spanish to work in the cocoa and timber industries.
After finally breaking the yoke of Iberian colonialism in 1968, the region’s indigenous inhabitants quickly purged the white, Spanish-descended colonos from their new nation, though Spain’s linguistic and cultural heritage is still palpable as 91% of the country’s population speaks the language of Cervantes.
Yet despite being the only nation in Africa with Spanish as an official language, our Afro-Latino brothers and sisters in Equatorial Guinea don’t tend to get much press. In fact, we’ll bet most of you weren’t even aware of the country’s existence until this very moment. But luckily, the small country has been fostering a burgeoning film movement, and even attracting a handful of international productions to its shores, giving us an unprecedented window into daily life in Sub-Saharan Africa’s seventh-largest oil producing country. Plus, we know you all are dying to hear their unique twist on Iberian Spanish.
Check out these films for a peak at life in Equatorial Guinea.
Palmeras en la nieve
We’ll start by getting the history out of the way with a recent Spanish superproduction entitled Palmeras en la nieve, which tells the story of two Spaniards who had made their lives in the colony of Spanish Guinea only to be uprooted during the country’s independence movement. Directed by Fernando González Molina and based on a best-seller by Luz Gabás, the film was nominated for five Goya Awards just this year, including Best Original Song and Best Art Direction, both of which it won. Unfortunately, Palmeras en la nieve was filmed primarily in Colombia and is much more about white people than actual Ecuatoguineanos, which means you’re not going to get much of a taste of real life in Equatorial Guinea from this one.
Where the Road Runs Out
Luckily, we also have the recent South African production Where the Road Runs Out from British-South African director Rudolf Buitendach. The film chronicles a dutch scientist’s return to his African roots as he takes up shop in a dilapidated field station in the jungles of Equatorial Guinea. Some might recognize Hollywood actor and Ivory Coast native Isaach De Bankolé in the film’s principal role, but despite a fairly attractive style and solid production value, the film was shot in primarily English for an international audience, using the Hispanic nation more as a convenient backdrop interchangeable with any number of West African countries.
Festival de Cine Africano de Guinea Ecuatorial
Far more important than any of these external representations, of course, is Equatorial Guinea’s own cinematic representations. Unfortunately, the country’s film scene suffers from many of the infrastructural issues plaguing other developing countries with histories of dictatorship and political corruption. But with initiatives like the Festival de Cine Itinerante Sur-Sur, and the Festival de Cine Africano, local filmmakers have finally been given a platform to show their stuff, while workshops and other initiatives are providing a new generation with the tools necessary to leave their mark on the world of international cinema.
The first short film produced by Equatorial Guinea’s Biblioteca Nacional, Teresa tells the story of three teenaged friends: Teresa, Rocío, and Yolanda. The young students don’t have much in common — Yolanda is a good girl, but Teresa and Rocío are less intersted in school — but somehow they find enough common ground to stick together. The drama is directed by Juan Pablo Ebang Esono.
One of the most promising new voices to emerge from these festivals is Rubén Monsuy, who won Sur-Sur’s Premio Ceiba for Best Film two years running. In addition to a number of narrative shorts that showcase his mature style, Rubén is responsible for the first ever feature-length film in Equatorial Guinea’s history. Co-directed with Argentine helmer Gabriel Amdur, FEGUIBOX chronicles the struggles of two local sluggers intent on being the first representation for Equatorial Guinea in olympic boxing. As the two athletes work and train, we are treated to a first-hand look into the trials and tribulations of daily life in the capital city of Malabo.
Other cinematic projects of varying quality have also been making waves across the country’s cultural scene, but while may of them may not exactly impress international audiences with their style or content, they are an important step in the eventual development of a strong national industry. One particularly successful initiative has been an animation workshop carried out as part of the Sur-Sur festival that so far has produced impressive results from local talents. Overall, it’s a heartening expression of love for the cinema from this fascinating and often overlooked country. Dale p’alante Equatorial Guinea, so far you’re doing everything right.