Words of Negroes
Paroles de nègresSylvaine Dampierre
International Competition 2021
English, German Subtitles for deaf and hard-of-hearing
On Guadeloupe, an archipelago in the Caribbean, the past speaks up. Sylvaine Dampierre has the workers of an old sugar refinery read passages from the transcripts of an 1842 court case, while the machines roar and groan in the background. The testimonies of the slaves from back then in the rusty halls of today give rise to a polyphony both explosive and poetic in nature.
The “Grande Anse” sugar refinery is a monster from a distant past: Flames like long tongues spew from the furnaces, piles resembling bones everywhere. The workers cut them with machetes in the plantations of Marie-Galante, a tiny island that belongs to the archipelago of Guadeloupe. The long bones, the sugar cane, are the scaffold that keeps everything together here. Sylvaine Dampierre is in the thick of it, shows the pulsating factory and the hard labour that goes on inside. Seasonal workers come and go; the men organize themselves. They are free. There are occasional flashes of the peculiar bond with France, of which this overseas territory is an integral part, but Dampierre foregrounds the transcripts of a court case from almost two hundred years ago, in which slaves testified against their violent master. An act of self-empowerment, whose gestus the director brings into dialogue with the present.
Winner of FIPRESCI Prize