Kantarama Gahigiri on „Terra Mater – Mother Land“/ interview

The Rwandan-Swiss screenwriter and director was born in Geneva and grew up in Switzerland and in various African countries. She has a degree in international relations. Although she was interested in art from a young age, she came to film relatively late. As a filmmaker, her work focuses on topics including identity, migration, empowerment and representation. She is an alumna of the Realness Residency (2018), La Fabrique Cinéma at Cannes (2019), Le Moulin d’Andé (2020), Berlinale Talents (2021), the Locarno Filmmakers Academy (2022) and the Atelier Grand Nord (2023).

What was your starting point for “Terra Mater – Mother Land”?

I started by writing a poem. Or maybe even a text closer to a litany. It was definitely circular and obscure. And in the eginning, it contained other themes as well, and a few clear, precise visuals. But after reworking at it, slowly, the center, he heart of the story revealed itself. And I understood what it was really about:

TERRA MATER is talking about land, a ast and complex issue here in East Africa, and the continent in general. An issue that is directly linked to the people, their heritage, their future, very concrete, very tangible. But it could really be about anywhere. Stolen land, contaminated land, avaged land as opposed to rich land, fertile land, sacred land.

I asked myself essential and inevitable questions, and tried to address them in the film:
What happens when we create trauma to the body of the Land? Who will be harvesting the consequences?
What about the ties between colonisation, capitalism and climate change?
Is climate justice even possible?

Do you have a favourite moment in the film? Which one and why this one?

I really loved working with my team. We were on the same wavelength. The fact that TERRA MATER was an independently financed short film allowed me to work freely, without the usual obstacles and limitations that arise with heavier productions. We were coming from Rwanda, Kenya and Switzerland. And worked with the people of Dandora
itself (the place where we shot, a suburb of Nairobi). It was important to me to reunite a team, cast and crew, that is representative of our values and to present the characters in a way that empowers them. And we had the exhilarating freedom to do so. I think that it shows in the film, and this is something I really like about it.

What do you like about the short form?

To me the short form, and especially working on TERRA MATER, felt like a laboratory where we, cast and crew as “mad scientists”, tried to push the boundaries of storytelling and of meaning. Break the narrative. And after several trials we arrived at a new equilibrium, or rather a state of revolt.
I enjoyed working in the short form a lot! Because it is a much more fluid, organic medium than a longer form. And perhaps it is also more immediate. But don’t get me wrong, I think there is beauty in both, the long and the short form. To me they are complementary.

Watch another Interview with Kantarama Gahigiri by the Berlinale Kamera as part of the the „Berlinale Meets“ format here.

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