Wed 08 Apr 2015, 08:00
Award-winning filmmaker Nathalie Borgers explores her family's dark colonial past in Rwanda.
Belgian filmmaker Nathalie Borgers explores a family mystery and their kept secret for 80 years - her mixed-race aunt she didn't know existed - in Greetings from the Colony.
The multi-award-winning Greetings From The Colony premieres on Wednesday, 8 April 2015 at 20:00 GMT / 22:00 CAT on Witness, Al Jazeera's observational documentary strand (DStv Channel 62).
To have a glimpse of the movie, watch the trailer below:
Nathalie’s grandfather, Leon, was a Belgian agent working in colonial Rwanda in the 1920s. Like many colonialists, he married a Rwandan woman, who bore him a daughter, Suzanne, and two sons. At the end of his term, he met and married a young Belgian woman, returning with her and four-year-old Suzanne to Belgium – abandoning his Rwandan wife and sons.
“Suzanne’s father is my grandfather. She is my aunt. But until 15 years ago, I had no idea she existed,” says Nathalie. “When I learned about her, by accident, I realised that the secret dominating her life was not only a family taboo but also a national one.”
In the film, Nathalie explores Suzanne’s story of growing up without her mother, in a family of denial, in a foreign country with a dark colonial past. “Did you ever talk about Africa?” Nathalie asks in the documentary. “Never,” Suzanne whispers regretfully.
While trying to re-unite Suzanne with her brothers who were left behind, Nathalie discovers that her aunt’s case isn't isolated: Suzanne is just one of hundreds of children who were removed from their homeland, while her brothers were just two of the many more who were simply abandoned.
“Mixed-race children born during the colonial era embodied a deep contradiction,” says Nathalie. “Intimate relationships between white and black people were rampant in a society built on the idea of the white race’s superiority and civilising mission. The children born from these mixed relationships do not appear in Belgium’s colonial historiography. Yet many were repatriated, often abducted from their mothers, as independence approached, in order to ‘save the white part of their heritage.’”
When Nathalie first contacted Suzanne, she was surprised but agreed to meet. “She told me that a few years earlier she had started to write a book in memory of her late father, called, All the Things I Wanted to Tell You. When I suggested making a documentary about her story, she saw it as a way to continue this unfinished work.”
Greetings From The Colony, which has won five international awards, premieres on Al Jazeera (Channel 62) on Wednesday 8 April at 20:00 GMT / 22:00 CAT, followed by screenings on 9 April at 12:00 GMT / 14:00 CAT, 10 April at 01:00 GMT / 03:00 CAT, and 11 April at 06:00 GMT / 08:00 CAT.