The Revolution Won’t Be Televised (dir Rama Thiaw)
An Insignificant Man (dir Khushboo Ranka, Vinay Shukla)
Layla M (dir Mijke de Jong, scr Jan Eilander, Mijke de Jong)
Contains spoilers for Layla M.
The stand out point about The Revolution Won’t Be Televised and An Insignificant Man is that they were made by a Senegalese woman and a pair of young Indian filmmakers in their own countries about things that they know about. The stand out point about Layla M is that it was not directed nor written by Dutch Moroccans, and it shows.
The Revolution Won’t Be Televised (TRWBT) spends four years following rappers, Gadiaga, Thiat and Kilifeu, who are part of the Y’en a Marre (We Are Fed Up) movement as they organise to mobilise people to vote against President Abdoulaye Wade in the 2012 elections. The election was controversial because Wade had already extended the presidential term from five to seven years, and the Constitutional Court of Senegal had decided that he could run for a third term, as his first term did not count under the terms of a new constitution.
After the election TRWBT moves into a second quite distinct part where Thiat and Kilifeu go to Burkina Faso, and to spread the Y’en a Marre method of organising at grassroots level. This part is structurally less satisfying, but the director says she has made it for an African audience; it is part of her mission to mobilise them. Rama is rightly proud that TRWBT is 80 per cent Senegalese funded because it meant that she did not have to alter her message to suit a European audience. Her personal cost while making the film was that she was imprisoned, and she made sure that every night she downloaded her footage so that it couldn’t be snatched. The result is an impressive documentary.
An Insignificant Man follows the attempt by the nascent anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), formed and led by former tax official Arvind Kejriwal, to win the 2012 Delhi Assembly election. Much of the film is an indignant Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit of the Congress Party belittling Kejriwal’s ambitions to give 700 litres of free water to every Delhi resident and to half the cost of electricity. They are popularist claims that seem doomed to fail, as Yogendra Yadav, the man within the AAP leadership who is the most media savvy, warns.
Directors Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla quietly follow Kejriwal, getting up close with the infighting, and rapid growth of the party. They crowdfunded their film, and the end result is a slick, coherently told story which is both accomplished and thought provoking.
Layla M is a Dutch Moroccan girl who is trying to exert her identity as a Dutch Muslim. She is a hajibi who as she gets more involved with protesting with wearing a niqab, and ends up marrying one of her brother protesters, Abdul. They flee to Belgium, when fleeing seems unnecessary, narrowly miss getting arrested at a jihadi training camp, and then leave for ‘the Middle East’.
My main problems with Layla M were the improbability of everything that happened to her. She is headstrong, but nothing about her suggests that she would become a jihadist sympathiser. In fact, even becoming a jihadi bride seems accidental as Abdul doesn’t seem inclined to kill people either. The actual details of their lives are inauthentic. Layla wears her hijab at home at dinner in front of the very people that she doesn’t need to, and even wears her niqab in front of them. Abdul, not a name, as explained much better than I can by this guy, changes his character so that on the journey to Belgium, he becomes a different person.
The performances are excellent, especially Nora El Koussour, but the actors deserved much better material than this.