Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival, April 28, 1999. Running time: 63 MIN.
Using one small instance of injustice as springboard to an overview of Cameroon’s myriad human-rights problems, Paris-based expatriate helmer Jean-Marie Teno’s docu “Chief!” is a brisk and focused look at a nation struggling uphill against corruption and archaic social norms. Fests, nonfiction tube slots and programmers attuned to women’s, African and political-activist issues will find this a worthy item.
Teno was visiting a festival-cum-pro-government rally in the western village of Bandjourn when he discovered a youth in danger of being beaten to death by a mob for stealing a hen and four chicks. Such vigilante justice is still typical, given rampant distrust of the corrupt judicial, legislative and police hierarchies. Spurred by this incident to look further, Teno interviews leading intellectuals battling to drag Cameroon toward a real democracy on several fronts: in women’s rights (heavily patriarchal tradition grants none, even condoning wife beating); in press freedom (a newspaper editor was imprisoned for asking whether President Biya had fallen ill); in prison conditions, which are abhorrent. Portrait shows a nation where only money buys “justice.” Yet activist efforts of those interviewed do offer some hope. Straightforward tech package is competent.