President is a story about an enchanting young leader: an aging despot nicknamed ‘The Snake’; an inscrutable judge; Nelson Mandela’s ex-lawyer and a slain street vendor. It plays out against a backdrop of a restless population in a parched Zimbabwean summer. It’s billed as a documentary but is, in fact, a riveting thriller.
President Robert Mugabe Out
President Robert Mugabe held sham elections every five years throughout his 38 year dictatorship. In 2017, he was ousted by his own party, the ZANU-PF. The new leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa, promised a fair and transparent 2018 election. After decades of suffering, a sense of freedom was born.
All eyes fell on Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change. It’s his party that must usurp the masters who have ruled for so long. It’s him that must lead his people to the Promised Land.
Mnangagwa’s first task is to appoint a Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. At the confirmation ceremony, there’s a moment when the camera lingers first on the new appointee, Justice Chigumba, then on Mnangagwa. The sense of foreboding is chilling and proves prophetic when Chigumba prints ballot papers illegally. The familiar stench of corruption fills Chamisa’s nostrils. He picks up the gauntlet, renames his headquarters the War Room and steps into the fray.
Beating Death Threats
This young lawyer’s serenity is contagious. His staff maintain an aura of calm even in the face of the insurmountable. When Chamisa is in a hospital bed, beaten half to death, he vows through swollen lips to never give up the fight. Death threats and violence continue, even though the world is watching. Perhaps easy access to the country’s minerals kept its global audience silent. Zimbabwean gold glitters a lot more brightly than its flag.
The camera keep rolling when bullets ping on metal just feet away. The camera keeps rolling when explosive residue clouds the lens. The camera keeps rolling when it’s jostled by riot police. The camera keeps rolling when the blood of the street vendor trickles into the gutter.
In the credits, the filmmakers thank the Zimbabweans for being brave enough to be part of their film. A lot of Zimbabweans would, undoubtedly, like to thank the filmmakers for being brave enough to make it.
Directed by Camilla Nielsson*
Cinemaphotography by Henrik Bohn Ipsen
Produced by Final Cut for Real
Premiered at Sundance Film Festival January 29th, 2021
*Nielsson’s first documentary, the acclaimed Democrats (2014) , was banned by Robert Mugabe. In February 2018, following a 2-year legal battle, a High Court judge finally ruled that the ban be lifted.
Publicity – Cinetic Marketing