Interviews

Tiger Talk #2 - João Miller Guerra & Filipa Reis

A chat with the directors of Djon África, João Miller Guerra (1974) and Filipa Reis (1977) about zombies, fatherhood and of course: their latest movie!

After watching this film, you want to pack your bags immediately. Did you ever visit the Cape Verdean islands, the lonely paradise of Africa, home of the world famous singer Cesária Évora and her song Ausencia?

If I had wings
to fly this distance
if I was a gazelle
to run without tiredness

Totally isolated in the Atlantic Ocean, more than 500 kilometres off the Senegalese coast, Cape Verde’s is one of the poorest countries in the world. A group of islands with almost no resources, but white beaches everywhere, some tourism and a huge diaspora sending money.

Its incredible beauty stole the hearts of the couple Filipa Reis and João Miller Guerra, two Portuguese filmmakers. We talk to them about their first long feature film, while their baby is sitting on their knees.

No parents. No passport
Years ago they became friends with Miguel, the main character of Djon África, while they were shooting their award winning documentary Li ké terra (2010). The directors followed the young Cape Verdean man who grew up with his grandmother in Portugal. No legal documents, no parents.

When Miller Guerra’s father died, he suddenly realized something: “Here’s a guy just beside me and his father is alive. Well, where is he? The Cape Verdean community is very close, but there are so many kids growing up without their fathers, like Miguel. There are so many single moms. Let’s search for his father. Let’s talk about parenthood. It’s a universal story.”

Actually, Miguel was talking a lot about moving to Cape Verde, about finding his roots. So they all decided: Let’s go and shoot a movie on the archipelago of Cape Verde. “Miguel was in our lives. Now he became an actor in his own life.” He is playing himself, a naive, funny tourist having the time of his life. He’s flirting with the most breathtaking girls and ends up being robbed after the first party.  

Singing fishermen
Three months they spent together on the islands, living between singing fishermen playing their guitars at night. There is a lonely old lady who lives with her goats in a small hut in the mountains. She becomes like a mother to Miguel. Miller Guerra: “She’s a very human and simple character. She saves him, teaches him his roots and how to be sincere and transparent.” 

  • Still: Djon África

  • Still: Djon África

  • Still: Djon África

  • Still: Djon África

  • Still: Djon África

Singing fishermen
Three months they spent together on the islands, living between singing fishermen playing their guitars at night. There is a lonely old lady who lives with her goats in a small hut in the mountains. She becomes like a mother to Miguel. Miller Guerra: “She’s a very human and simple character. She saves him, teaches him his roots and how to be sincere and transparent.” 

The old lady symbolizes the African roots. By the end of Miguel’s trip, she vanishes, just like his dad. Was she even real? And his dad, is he actually alive? Miguel seems to be chasing his shadow. He keeps searching, visiting the places where he lived.

But only in my thoughts
I travel without fear
I have my freedom
but only in my dreams 

You could consider this as a pittoresk journey, but you can also see the downside of it, after you take an intense and psychedelic look. “There are a lot of zombies: the grogue (local rum) alcoholics in Cape Verde. In every town there is a zombie nation, a group of men that starts drinking grogue in the morning and goes to bed completely drunk.

While watching Djon África we wonder: will history repeat itself? Will Miguel become an absent father, like his own dad? Now that he has found his identity, will he ever go back to Portugal?”

Multiple awards 
Reis and Miller Guerra have won many awards in Portugal with short films like Fora da vida (Best Portuguese Short Film IndieLisboa ’15), Bela vista (Best International Short Film FIDOC ’13) and Cama de gato (Best Portuguese Short Film IndieLisboa '12). Today they want to conquer the international stage, by winning an international award outside of Portugal, at IFFR in Rotterdam. 

Miguel is also joining them on their trip to the Netherlands. He contacted many fellow Cape Verdeans in Rotterdam via Facebook. It’s a huge, very well connected diaspora, not only in Portugal. About twenty thousand Cape Verdeans are living here. They’re all invited by Miguel to come and see Djon África, so they can join the fairy tale. Just like Cesária Évora sang:

I suffer loneliness
like the sun alone in the sky
it only shines but it blinds
with its glare
not knowing where to brighten
where to go
oh loneliness, it's a fate...

Photo in header: Tekst: Sophie van Leeuwen & Pieter-Bas van Wiechen