Laura Cini: Punishment Island

Director Laura Cini was at DocsBarcelona 2016 at a rough cut screening in front of a selected panel with me as the moderator. She has now finished the film, sent it to me, asking my opinion as she experiences rejections from many festivals. What’s wrong, she asks? I answer ”well the competition to get into festivals is strong” and ”most festivals play safe and your film is not very ”sexy” subject-wise” in comparison with the many current social and political issues in the world right now. Even though you can see it is as a women’s story.

Nothing is wrong, I can tell the director after I have seen the final version of the one hour long documentary. My impression is the same as when it was selected for the Barcelona session: The director has made her aesthetic choice that brings a quiet, intimate tone and brilliant cinematography – she mixes fiction and documentary in a way that you don’t think about what is what. And content-wise the story about the unmarried pregnant women, who were taken to the island Akampene in South-Western Uganda to be forgotten and die by starvation in loneliness, is touching more than shocking due to the way the old women and (some) men tell what they remember or what they remember to have heard. Some were chosen by men without bribes and taken from the island, often to live as outcast. Wonderful expressive faces meet the camera, mixed with images from the lake and nature, where the island was and is no longer. My grandmother came back, a man tells, (grand)mother and daughter next to each other, a woman who does not remember her age, ”does it matter”, reverend Stephen introduces the story about Mauda, who was 4 days on the island, ”I was raped”, says she or another woman, again it does not matter as the film turn it all into a collective voice on pain and survival. Other stories came up when religion came, when the whites came, they are not in the film.

Some small dramatizations are made (unfortunately the words of the one impersonating the island that speaks to the audience are difficult to understand, please subtitle), a fine song is song, and a man is drawing scenes from the stories on Punishment Island.

Festival readers of this post, take a look.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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