Colonial Britain. Filmed in 1936 by Notcutt, L.A. as a part of the Bantu Educational Kinema Experiment’s (BEKEs) The Kingolwira Experiment program, African Peasant Farms was one of many films that were intended to educate the indigenous African people about farming and how to live under colonial occupation. Watch the film on Colonial Film dot org.
African Peasant Farms – which was referred to in BEKE (Bantu Educational Kinema Experiment) material as ‘Peasant Holdings’ – was the eighteenth BEKE film produced and was filmed between 19 August and the end of September 1936 (Notcutt and Latham, 1937, 130).
African Peasant Farms follows an unnamed African protagonist – ‘He is on his way to apply for a farm. He comes to a fly-post’ – and encourages the audience to identify with this African character. However, this protagonist is, like the audience, merely undertaking a tour of the area and the film’s emphasis is on the details and processes of the scheme, rather than the desires and goals of the character. The film prioritises the industrial processes, such as the manufacture of bricks, and highlights the details within the scheme : ‘each holding is 14 acres’. This emphasis on the scheme is apparent in Notcutt and Latham’s account of the film, as they explained that ‘we filmed the three different stages of development of the holdings and endeavoured to bring out the main points in the scheme’ (Notcutt and Latham, 1937, 56).
Although the scheme is viewed through the eyes of an African protagonist, in many respects the film appears to be directed towards British audiences. First, in its representation of the Africans the film contains a number of ethnographic scenes, such as an African in traditional costume dancing while others play drums and instruments, which were popular with British audiences. The intertitles also highlight aspects that may appear obvious to local audiences: ‘This settler is of another tribe and he has built his hut differently’. Furthermore, the language used – ‘this film shows a practical experiment to establish a new native settlement in Tsetse-Fly country’ – seemingly bypasses the largely illiterate local audience, and presents the scheme as evidence of the welfare work of the British in Africa.
The film addresses topics prevalent within other BEKE films, such as the construction of ‘compulsory’ pit latrines and the use of the cassava plant, but also represents a more modern Africa than in, for example, Tropical Hookworm (1936). This can be explained by the increased British presence within this film, which culminates with the British man, positioned on a step and looking down on the African, signing the African protagonist up to the scheme.
James Burns noted that the topics within these films ‘shared a common theme that the filmmakers described as “progress vs African methods”’ and this is apparent within African Peasant Farms (Burns, 2002, 27). An early intertitle explains that ‘the agriculture is adapted to native tradition, but improved methods are introduced by stages’ as the filmmakers, in accordance with governmental writing on the scheme, highlighted the gradual developments introduced by the British. The African man encounters modern developments as he walks past a car, sees new farming techniques and visits a brick-built house. Ultimately the film serves as an indication of the attitudes of both the filmmakers and the government, in seeking to direct and ‘educate’ the Africans, perceived as ‘primitive’ and impressionable, in modern European methods.
Tom Rice (May 2008) ref
The film is owned by the BFI and is available to watch at colonial film dot org. Unfortunately the film is embedded in a swf. and can’t be shared. Luckily, by going to the website you can also access texts that explain the context and history of the film fully.