The Journey of Cape Verde

English Title: The Journey of Cape Verde

Country of Origin: Cape Verde

Studio: Txan Film Productions & Visual Arts

Director: Guenny K. Pires

Producer(s): Guenny K. Pires

Screenplay: Guenny K. Pires

Cinematographer: Guenny K. Pires

Editor: Rui A. Lopes da Silva

Runtime: 82 minutes

Genre: Documentary

Language: Creole, English, French, Portu

Year: 2004

Volume: African / Nigerian


After the April 1995 eruption of Mount Fogo near his hometown in Mira-Mira, filmmaker Guenny K. Pires began to reconsider what it meant to be from Cape Verde.  Travelling around the archipelago of his country and visiting the emigrate communities in Portugal, United States, France, Holland, Spain, Italy, Madeira, and the islands of São Tomé and Principe, he asked people from his country this question, and what they felt their role was being Cape Verdean.


The Journey of Cape Verde tells the story of these travels. Pires shares his love of a country whose culture is shaped by its deep and rich history, and reveals a nation whose political and economic past is as rocky as its volcanic geography. It is a film that considers the identity of a country through a rich multicultural background, its recent period of political revolution, and the continual diaspora of its people. Pires asks whether the framework of a person's culture and identity is more than that of location, which in this case, has risen out of the ocean through an eruption of fire and rock.


Throughout the documentary, Pires meets residents and emigrants that describe life as ‘sabi‘ or fine in Cape Verde, despite its challenges and difficulties. Pires’s approach is to contextualize this response in a poetic and performative manner like in performative documentary where the filmmaker plays a self-reflexive role within the film itself. He draws on the country’s rich traditions, and stresses a subjective position that he designates as an emotional journey of this world. It is a personal film and it is his passion for Cape Verde that draws attention to its people, music, food, poetry, and rich Creole rituals, yet it functions unconventionally in an experimental and poetic manner. It links Pires’s personal journey meeting his fellow compatriots to the country’s historical and political realities. The purpose of Pires’s documentary is not to describe history but to evoke it from a personal and national point of view.


Yet, Pires rejects the linearity of colonial time and space which advance towards a fixed point of progress and perfection. He discards causal action, and revises it to a more abstract position. He moves between events indeterminately, shifting back and forth between moments that match neither geographically or thematically. Similarly, he travels almost arbitrarily around the nine inhabitable islands of Cape Verde and disrupts the viewer’s understanding of space, not allowing for a geographical positioning of place. The construction of the film may appear haphazard, but Pires and editor Rui A. Lopes de Silva discard the western space/time continuum, and allow the viewer to consider the messiness of the forces that shape and define a culture and the difficulties of locating oneself within that space. 


Without a fixed point, a western audience may find Pires’s strategy disconcerting. It may help to know that Cape Verde is a horseshoe-shaped group of ten islands and eight islets formed by volcanoes, located on the western tip of North Africa. It was colonized by Portugal, and it was the first slavery port of West Africa in the early 1700s and a key position along the Atlantic slave trade routes. In 1975, after years of armed rebellion between the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) and Portuguese and African soldiers, Cape Verde took its first steps towards independence. Even though this is a short description, it might position an imperial perspective to a point to help better understand the film. Yet, the film is not made for a western audience.


The intention of this documentary is not to comprehend Cape Verde from a historical or geographical perspective, but to move outside of the colonizer’s viewpoint and consider it from Pires’s, and the rest of Cape Verde’s position. The filmmaker seeks a site to construct and consider identity. He achieves this through a decentred frame of reference, from a history of people who have been shifted outside of their time and space by external forces. Just as the volcano has both created and disrupted his homeland on the island of Fogo, Pires considers how colonialism is equally a part of Cape Verde’s history and a source of rupture of the identity of its people. It is his use of filmmaking that works as a performative act, an attempt to create a shared space and remove the boundaries that colonialism and diasporas have formed. This documentary may not be able to repair the damage, but through food, music, and stories, it is a common place where the people may regroup and restore the identity of Cape Verde.

Author of this review: David Gane