"Cuba: An African Odyssey"
A film by Jihan El-Tahri
Jihan El Tahri, "Cuba, An African Oddyssey", 2008. Courtesy of the artist
"Cuba: An African Odyssey" is a document by Jihan El-Tahri, showing the support from communist Cuba under Fidel Castro’s rule for the African liberation movements. The film depicts Cuba's involvement in the struggle for Africa's independence, which has proven critical to the decolonisation process, putting an end to the colonial domination.
During the Cold War, the African continent has become a battlefield for the contradictory interests of global powers. The United States lusted after, and aggressively sought to lay claim to African natural resources, while the Soviet Union attempted to utilize African countries as potential breeding ground for Communism. At the same time, Western Europe began to lose its colonial grip on the continent, when such countries as Guinea-Bissau (led by Amilcar Cabral), Angola (led by António Agostinho Neto) and The Republic of the Congo (led by Patrice Lumumba) declared nationalist sentiments and established autonomy, ready to guard their newly acquired independence and turning to the Communist Cuba for help in defending their interests.
Relying her story on archive footage and in-depth interviews, Jihan El-Tahri explores these unusual and seldom discussed transnational Afro-Cuban relationships, starting from the unsuccessful involvement of Che Guevara's troops in Congo and closing with the victorious battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola. The film is also a tribute to the post-war internationalism, described as the solidarity of the weak, which has proven very successful in combating all types of colonialism.
Jihan El-Tahri is a writer and documentary director. She started as a journalist, working as a correspondent and TV researcher during the political happenings in the Middle East between 1984-1990. Since 1990, she directs and produces documentaries for the French TV, BBC, PBS and other international channels; she created over a dozen films, including the Emmy-nominated The House of Saud on the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the USA, viewed from the biographical perspective of the Saudi monarchs. In The Price of Aid, which won the European Media award in 2004, El-Tahri verified who actually profits from the international system of food aid. Multiple award-winning Cuba: An African Odyssey is the previously untold story of Cuba’s support for African revolutions. The director's newest documentary venture, Behind the Rainbow, on the changes in South Africa premiered in 2009 and won multiple awards.
Currently, El-Tahri closes her work on a three-hour documentary film with working title Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs. She has published The 9 Lives of Yasser Arafat and Israel and the Arabs. The 50 Years War on Penguin. Jihan El-Tahri is active in associations and institutions involved in African cinema. She was treasurer to the African Guild of Filmakers in Diaspora, regional secretary to the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers and advisor to the Africa First programme by Focus Features. She is currently a mentor in Documentary Campus.