Ayodeji Richard Olugbuyiro
Tão longe é aqui (2013) is a documentary film produced by Brazilian journalist and filmmaker Eliza Capai. It captures the experiences of women in four African countries, namely: Cabo Verde, Morocco, Mali, and South Africa. The producer Eliza Capai, about to be thirty years old, decides to pick her backpack, a camera, and a microphone and sets out on a journey overseas interviewing women from diverse cultures and backgrounds. From the metropolitan city of Marrakesh in Morocco to the interior village of Pays Dogon in Mali and several other locations, she interviews a total of twelve women in a trip that lasted seven months. Without showing her face, the focus of her camera is on the interviewees and the environments where the interviews take place. Her main questions revolve around their personal lives, their most impactful experiences, and their opinions regarding womanhood in their respective families and societies.
The documentary opens with a narration by Eliza Capai, in which she addresses her daughter, telling her about the journey she is undertaking, her experiences on the trip hitherto, and her desire to hand her the letter by the time she turns thirty, just like herself. During this narration, she would stop intermittently as she asks herself rhetorical questions, as if reflecting on her encounters. The interviews are conducted in Portuguese, English, Spanish, French, and in some cases African languages with the help of interpreters. However, the documentary has both English and Portuguese subtitles.
Her first stop is the island country of Cabo Verde, where she meets Fátima, a middle-aged trader who deals in clothing and shoes. Fátima talks about her satisfaction in having accomplished all her life goals. However, Eliza Capai queries her further if she has any other desires, to which she replies that she does but would not disclose them until they are realized. She proceeds to interview two other teenage girls, Teresa and Windia, whom she asks what they like and aspire to become in the future when they are about her age. During these interviews, Windia catches her attention, as the young girl tells Capai about her family, her desire for a new house where she would have her room, as well as her love for the Cinderella character. At the end of the interviews, she reflects on the stories of these women in her narration, and as if speaking to her daughter, Capai reminds her that she could be Windia, and could have been born in a village with no running water, have the task of caring for her younger brother like Windia, and seldom see her mother, herself in the case.
Her next stop after Cabo Verde is the country of Morocco, and she informs through her narration that it was her first time in a Muslim country. The first scene in Morocco is shot at a busy market where she records a group of street performers who beat the local drum, as some of them dance to the rhythm and others run to passersby asking for donations. She proceeds to the coastline in the Marrakesh capital, where she meets with Assia. In her interview with Assia, she asks about her marital experience and the marriage culture in Morocco. Assia, a divorcée, recounts her experience of getting married at the age of seventeen to a man who was chosen for her by her parents, and passionately relates her experience of violation and hurt in the marriage. She however concludes by expressing her present happiness now that she is divorced and lives as a single woman. After this, Capai proceeds to interview Siham, an eloquent and well-informed Moroccan who spoke both English and French. In their conversation, Siham talks about the condition of women in Morocco, addressing topics such as feminism, the use of the veil, Islamic fanaticism, and how laws in the country are changing in favor of women. Her last interview in Morocco was with a woman from the countryside; however, it ended abruptly as her male interpreter would not ask the interviewee Capai’s questions, as he opines that the questions were not necessary to be asked. In her narration at the end of the interviews, she reflects on the relationship between men and women in Morocco as she sets to move to her next destination, Mali.
Upon her arrival in Mali, she meets a group of young boys and girls in the market, who round her up as they demonstrate their surprise and excitement at being filmed by a foreign white woman. Departing from the capital of Mali, she proceeds to Pays Dogon. An arid village, where there is neither electricity nor tarred roads, but with happy people who are content with their lives. In Pays Dogon, the kids are visibly excited to see her even though they seem uncomfortable to have her camera staring at their faces. Since they speak only Dogon, there was not much communication, as they moved away shyly whenever she asked them questions in French. Her first interview here is with Hawa, a teacher at the local elementary school who speaks French. Capai is welcome into Hawa’s home, and she is even allowed to take a nap on a mat laid on the open roof of the mud house. During her interview with Hawa, Capai asks her about her family and what she thinks about living as a second wife in a polygamous setting. Excitedly, Hawa explains to her how the wives share their household responsibilities, and how each wife spends time with their husband. Curiously, Capai queries her, “is there anything that makes you feel ‘yes, I am a Dogon woman,’ I am different from other women because…” (34:50) to which she replies “here in Pays Dogon, all of the women are equal” (35:08); not satisfied with her answer, Capai rephrases her question, and asks, “do you think there’s any difference between you and me?” (35:10). This time, Hawa responds “the difference between both of us? You are white and I am black” (35:13). She concludes her interview with Hawa, asking about her experiences when she lived in the city and in Pays Dogon. In other scenes, she meets with women who carry out female genital mutilation and attends a street party and cultural display. During her narration of events in Pays Dogon, she reflects on the issue of female genital mutilation, and again tells her imaginary daughter that she could be one of the mutilated girls or experience polygamy had she been born in Pays Dogon. Her final interviews here are with Esther and Awa Meite, and in these, she queries them about their opinions on polygamy, after which sets out to fly down to her final destination, South Africa.
Once in South Africa, her first interview was with Patience, an HIV-positive elementary school teacher. Patience relates her experience of dealing with the virus and how different people relate to her considering her status. Moving on, she interviews Nokhula, a lesbian soccer player and rape victim, who is now a self-professed feminist and women’s rights advocate. Nokhula tells Capai about her rape experience and how that event changed her views about men. Her final interviewee is Omagugu, an enthusiastic singer whose song is part of the documentary’s soundtrack. The mother of two girls, including a newborn baby, welcomes Capai to her home where they interact. Capai in her interview asks her what she dreams for her daughter to become when she is their age (referring to both), and she responds “I dream that she becomes a strong, successful woman. That she does not fear going out there and being herself. I think the most beautiful gift you can give a person is to be yourself. Be free and be who you want to be. That is what I wish for her” (01:08:01-01:08:08). With this final interview, Eliza Capai reflects on her new age, as she films a moving airplane to indicate her return to Brazil.
Tão longe é aqui, since its release, has won several awards in Brazil and abroad, among which are “Best Film” at Mostra Novos Rumos (2013), “Best Doc.” at Brasilcine Sweeden (2014), “Best Doc.” at Mercosul Festival Audience Award (2014), and “Best Doc.” Female Rio Special Jury Award (2013). Other works by the director Eliza Capai include Severinas (2014), O jabuti e o tapir (2016), and #Resistancia (2017). The filmmaker’s notes in an audio interview found on the website of the Angolan voice that her motivation for making the documentary is to disprove stereotypical images about African women. In line with this, one can see how she tries not to pass a direct judgment on the customs and cultures she encounters while interviewing these women. However, she is betrayed a few times by her manner of inquiry and her reactions to subjects such as polygamy and genital mutilation. An instance is when Hawa informs her during their interview that “polygamous marriage is the norm in Pays Dogon” (50:28); her response to that is, “in my country, this is not possible, it is forbidden – it is forbidden, if a man marries two women, he goes to prison” (50:38). While the reference to Brazil may have been to see the reaction of Hawa, nevertheless the act of comparing two cultures already insinuates a form of disguised judgment.
Overall, a significant merit of the documentary is how it depicts the plurality of the experiences of African women, specifically by demonstrating their acts of subjectivity and self-expression. Also, it depicts the presence of combined elements of modernity and tradition in the lives of African women rather than a single stereotypical representation.