Many real-life figures have been proposed as having impressed Coronary heart of Darkness’s bloody outrider Kurtz, however this fascinating historic documentary-cum-personal journey finds an in depth match within the French military captain Paul Voulet. Or simply “Paul”, as British-Nigerian activist and poet Femi Nylander accusingly names him as he follows the colonialist’s 1899 journey alongside what’s now the Niger-Nigeria border in the direction of Lake Chad, in a bid to safe a staging put up for management of central Africa. Voulet, like Kurtz, went rogue – lastly refusing orders from Paris and embarking on a path of horrific atrocities now traceable alongside the route of Niger’s principal freeway.
Along with his locked-in gaze, there’s a hint of obsession to Nylander, too. He’s doing invaluable work right here, disinterring one other collectively obscured tragedy and presenting it again to Europe as a part of a long-overdue revision of colonialism. However regardless that many Hausa folks say it’s the first time somebody has requested about Voulet, they’ve clearly not forgotten. With accounts apparently handed down orally in these cities and villages, the ache remains to be uncooked: “You are feeling impotent. Completely humiliated,” says one man in Birnin Konni, website of Voulet’s greatest bloodbath. A bunch of white-clad schoolgirls weep on the considered the slaughter of their ancestors – and one ominously talks of revenge. Terrorism, within the Islamist recruiting floor of the Sahel, begets terrorism.
Nylander is brave sufficient to current some curiously ambiguous notes, too. At one level he’s upbraided by his guides for his emotionless face, as if he has a “blockage” to displaying empathy. Later, he superimposes footage of him throwing himself into an area ritual, with Voulet reciting his delusions: “I’m a black chief. The king of Lake Chad. I’m now not a Frenchman. I’m an African such as you.” It’s as if the presenter – as a European of African heritage – desires to be trustworthy about his divided allegiances; probably he’s cautious of being one other Marlow to Voulet’s Kurtz, one other compromised observer. Not less than by solely alluding to such difficulties, reasonably than making himself the main target, Nylander avoids one other frequent error and retains Africa on the centre of the story.
• African Apocalypse is accessible on 30 October on BFI Participant.