CHIEF! is a documentary chronicle of the trials and tribulations of daily life under a dictatorship.
During the month of December, 1997, I witnessed several troubling events in Cameroon: In my village a young boy was nearly lynched by a mob-people's justice in a lawless state. I went to a wedding and learned that, by law, the husband is the ruler of the family. A highly respected journalist was imprisoned without a trial for writing an article about the health of the president.
Initially these incidents seemed unrelated. But as I tried to understand them, to see them in the context of a number of disturbing tendencies in Cameroon today, I saw they were all linked to the generalized problem of the abuse of power in an authoritarian society.
CHIEF! brings these seemingly discrete events together in a personal reflection of the current state of Cameroonian society with its hierarchies, inequalities and lack of respect for human rights-all the by-products of a dictatorship.
We all know about dictators-the all powerful chiefs, a law unto themselves, ruling with total impunity, pillaging and plundering their nations' wealth, diverting millions into Swiss bank accounts, enriching themselves endlessly at the expense of their countries' miserable populations.
But a dictatorship is also a system with logic, a vast machinery of corruption and irresponsibility, a state of mind that permeates an entire population. From top to bottom, at all levels of society the authoritarian model is replicated, transforming all social exchanges into relationships of power and inequality. In every town, office, police station and institution we find the autocratic chiefs ruling over their fiefdoms, extorting their subordinates.
In the traditional society, one would never visit the chief without bringing a gift. Our modern chiefs also demand their gifts: nothing advances, nothing is produced, and nothing is accomplished without the gift. For everything there's a price, a bribe, a payoff, a kickback.
A film by Jean Marie Teno
Cameroon / France, 1999, Documentary, 61 minutes, 16 mm and video
With Beatice Sime, Suzanne Kala-Lobe, Henriète Ekwé, Djeukam Tchameni, Mongo Beti, Melvin Akam, Jeanne Njawé, Pius Njawé, Sa majesté Ngnié Kamga, Daouda Aladji Ousmanou, Mme Ekobouma.
The weekend of December 20, 1997 I travelled to my village to attend the inauguration of a monument honouring one of our past chiefs.
I planned to spend several days videotaping dances. However, on the morning of the second day of festivities, I happened across a scene of vigilante justice during which a 16 year-old boy nearly lost his life for stealing one hen and four chicks.
Several hours later, I bought a souvenir calendar and discovered inside the "rules and regulations of the husband in his home "-a series of exceptionally misogynous "articles" defining the conjugal relationship.
These events became the starting point of a reflection on abuses of power in Cameroon-country of chiefs, country of inequalities.
Jean Marie Teno
Directed by Jean Marie Teno
Written by Jean Marie Teno
Editor: Christiane Badgley
Original music: Brice Wassy
Production: Les Films du Raphia (France)
CoProduction: Raphia film Production (Cameroon)
Les Films du Raphia.