Sheffield Doc/Fest 2014: ‘Concerning Violence’ review


Illustrating the provocative and combative concepts of Martinique-born Afro-French psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon’s anti-colonial text The Wretched of the Earth, Göran Hugo Olsson’s Concerning Violence (2014) aims to explore Africa’s subjugated past in hope of understanding the continent’s current geopolitical condition. An abrasively worded thinkpiece, Olsson’s follow-up to 2011’s The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 – screening at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest after stints at Sundance and Berlin – is a damning indictment of European imperialism and an eloquent tirade of inflammatory imagery that explores the human, social and cultural consequences of decolonisation.

The film opens with a preface by literary theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who informs the audience that Olsson’s doc is inspired by Fanon’s 1960s analysis of the roots and visible symptoms of colonialism in Africa. She pre-warns us that this is an educational text, linked closely to Fanon’s powerfully urgent prose – adding a visual dimension to his assertion that colonialism “is violence in its natural state”. As the full title, Concerning Violence: Nine Scenes From the Anti-Imperialistic Self-Defence, suggests, it consists of nine separate chapters, each covering a different view on the colonial struggles in Africa. Some, such as the shocking image of a young woman with her arm amputated feeding her legless baby are more brutal than others, but overall Olsson favours a less sensationalist directorial approach.

Swedish archive footage illustrates the human cost of decolonisation in countries such as Angola, Liberia and Zimbabwe. We witness a strike by miners, where the lack of workers’ rights lead to families being displaced from their homes. There’s also a couple of Swedish missionaries, interviewed about a church they’re building. When asked if they’d also be building schools and hospitals, their reply that a church is far more necessary demonstrates the extent of their goodwill. Concerning Violence’s nine sections unfold with striking authority, Fanon’s text simultaneously narrated in voiceover by Lauryn Hill and punched starkly onto the screen. This creative choice could be seen as overly didactic and excessively invasive, yet seeing Fanon’s acerbic words appropriated gives them the venom and prominence they deserve. This isn’t a film to gently wash over the Western viewer like a shower of inherent guilt – it’s a call to action.

This heavily illustrative, diverse tapestry of post-colonial African imagery removes any form of emotional connection with the text, traversing sensationalism and allowing the audience to actually think about what they’re viewing in a composed and considerate manner. This isn’t to say that Olsson’s latest lacks the guttural punch its subject demands; there’s certainly plenty of agonising scenes of horror and human tragedy. Rather, the film’s educational approach helps add context to the imagery. An exercise in assigning valuable historical context to scenes of brutality, Concerning Violence is a lesson in understanding a continuing colonial condition, the roots and complexities of which are often concealed and simplified by news coverage of poverty and conflict. Despite his unapologetic Western gaze, Olsson’s utilisation of Fanon’s text is a sharp and perceptive usage that seeks to question the dominant narrative of colonialism and its legacy.

Concerning Violence featured in CineVue’s ‘Best films of 2014’ feature. You can read the full list here

Patrick Gamble