The past year has seen several exceptional debut films from British directors. Following in the footsteps of Lady Macbeth and The Levelling, comes I Am Not A Witch, a startling film that marks out director Rungano Nyoni as a talent to watch.
The film is a satire on Zambian witchcraft, and built off of the folklore that still plays a huge role in the area. We follow Shula as she is first accused, then labelled a witch, meaning she is brought into a community of fellow 'witches', fitted with a ribbon attached to an oversized spindle, and must learn to exist with them under the care of government employee, Mr Banda. From here the narrative explores the capitalist potential of having a witch, and the abuses this brings in a society that is both fascinated and appalled by them.
At the centre is a committed Maggie Mulubwa as Shula. Her narrative is heartbreaking, entirely sold by the young performer, who brings a haunting intensity to the part. The rest of the cast are strong, particularly Henry BJ Phiri as the hilarious, yet sinister, Mr Banda. In fact once you have bought into the concept the film is surprisingly funny, with the satire showing hints of The Thick of It. There doesn't mean proceedings are free from darkness, it is just tempered by a comedic edge that is delicious. At times the film resembles both Beasts of the Southern Wild & Okja.
I Am Not A Witch is a fascinating film that treads an unexpected path, exploring a subject I was unfamiliar with. It is a remarkably esoteric and singular in style piece of cinema, aided by gorgeous cinematography from David Gallego. It is an interesting debut, but one that feels stretched to feature length status. This would have made an excellent short film, and the second half feels padded, with the disjointed narrative taking its toll on the audience's interest. But thanks to the great lead performance the film is a journey worth undertaking, and will introduce Nyoni to a much wider audience.
This is a London Film Festival preview and I Am Not A Witch will be released on Friday 20th October.