Hand in hand? Documentary film and the paradox of a Belgo-Congolese union at Expo 58
The 1958 World’s Fair, held in Brussels and known as Expo 58, was an apotheosis of Belgian colonial cinema and propaganda. Simultaneously, it harboured a paradox at the core of late colonial Belgium. In various ways, Belgium developed a dubious reconstruction of the past in an attempt to uphold a strong connection between metropole and colony in the burgeoning Atomic Age. This article explores how the idea of a Belgo-Congolese union was constructed and represented in documentary films screened at Expo 58, and how discussions about documentary cinema challenged that idea in a complex encounter of politics and poetics. In analysing the inextricable interweaving of ideas and representations, this article employs archival research as well as close reading of film and written texts. Through its multifaceted approach, this article shows how the paternalistic tone of colonial films Tokèndé (Gérard De Boe, 1958), Main dans la main (Inforcongo, 1958) and Pour un monde plus humain (Georges Baudouin, 1957), and the discourse in which they thrived, ran contrary to the progressive humanism the World’s Fair wanted to display. This ‘progressist’ stance clashed with the global process of decolonisation (including in Congo), which was largely neglected during the World’s Fair. At the ‘Rencontres Internationales. Le Cinéma et l’Afrique subsaharienne’ conference, held at Expo 58 to evaluate film production about and destined for Africa, the paradoxes of paternalistic colonial filmmaking were very much present. Developments in ethnographic filmmaking, however, challenged the colonial discourse that promoted a one-sided Eurafrican community and the colonial cinema that advanced this idea. Though not beyond criticism, cineastes-ethnologists Luc de Heusch and Jean Rouch defended a more participatory and reflexive approach to ethnographic filmmaking, expressed in Rouch’s Moi, un noir (1958). By specifically focusing on a hand in hand metaphor, this article demonstrates how documentaries created, as well as challenged, the myths that rewrite history.
Source (journal)
Studies on National Movements
12 :1 (2023) , p. 42-70
Full text (Publisher's DOI)
Research group
Project info
Screening multiple identities. National, subnational and transnational discourses in post-war Belgian cinema.
Publication type
Publications with a UAntwerp address
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Creation 08.02.2024
Last edited 21.03.2024
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