‘As I see it, it’s wrong to write about people without living through at least a little of what they are living through’ – Ryszard Kapuściński, Another Day of Life.
A notable characteristic of war reportage is the determination to maintain neutrality; to stick to facts – the black and white; deal with the political rather than the personal. Yet one of Poland’s most respected authors and war reporters, Ryszard Kapuściński, intentionally broke from this convention, using his position as journalist to chronicle the lives of those implicated in war. This is most notable in his book Another Day of Life, the result of his reports sent back to the Polish Press Agency in the months of the Angolan civil strife surrounding its independence in 1975. The strength of this novel led the Spanish director Raul de la Fuente to select it as the basis for his next film, and he approached Platige Image, a Polish Production company that specializes in animation, with a proposal for an idea unique to Polish and Spanish film.
In the months leading up and subsequent to the official departure of Portuguese rule, Angola was thrown into turmoil in a civil conflict between differing parties trying to gain power; the FNLA from the North, UNITA from the South and West, and the MPLA, a democratic socialist group who fought against Portugal in the Angolan War of Independence. The journalist Ryszard Kapuściński had been travelling throughout western Africa for ten years previously, and when he was asked by the Polish Press Agency to travel to Angola in October 1975, he jumped at the chance. His reports from both the Angolan capital, Luanda, and from the front of the battling between the armed groups, later formed the substance of his book, Another Day of Life. The book is generally considered to be a masterpiece of reportage. Salman Rushdie said of the author: ‘His exceptional combination of journalism and art allows us to feel so close to what Kapuściński calls the inexpressible true image of war’.
It is impossible to ever fully comprehend the actuality of war through the reports we receive in the news; indeed, it is often impossible for the reporters themselves to be able to ascertain a broad overview of events as they unfold. History is always written after the fact, and it is this inevitability that lies at the crux of Kapuściński’s writing. Kapuściński acknowledged the impossibility of transcending his personal perspective and instead used this as a tool for depicting how he perceived and experienced the conflict. As the author says himself in the novel: ‘the world contemplates the great spectacle of combat and death, which is difficult to imagine because the image of war is not communicable — not by the pen, or the voice, or the camera’.
Instead, we have the images of the mounds of rubbish that pile up in Luanda once the bin men have abandoned their posts; his humorous descriptions of the ‘mass sex orgy’ between the pedigree dogs that would regularly occur on the Government Palace lawn once their Portuguese owners had fled the country; the mush of soggy tobacco that was a packet of cigarettes in his pocket, broken down to a pulp by the vast quantities of sweat from the stress of driving across areas of combat.
Another Day of Life is as much a character study as political reportage, and whilst not a lengthy tome, swiftly endears the readers to the many people both fleeing from and involved in the struggle for Independence in Angola. One such character, Carlotta, is a 20-year-old black soldier who appears but for a few pages, yet her sudden death is one of the most tragic moments in a book marked for its poignancy. It is this sympathetic and humanistic style of writing that drew the director Raul de la Fuente to the author, and planning to produce his next film based on the book, he approached the Polish animation studio Platige Image with his proposal. Equally enthused, they agreed to take on the project, and the feature length Another Day of Life, co-directed by De La Fuente and the Polish auteur Damian Nenow, was born.
The feature film is a fusion of animation with real life footage, something unseen before in either Polish or Spanish film. The animated sequences, directed by Damian Nenow, recreate the powerful words of Kapuściński, whilst the real life footage contains accounts from some of the survivors of the struggle, 30 years on. This device for dividing the past and the present is an intelligent and nuanced decision, sympathetic to Kapuściński’s conviction that it is impossible to obtain an overview of warfare. Rather, these two differing modes of storytelling are but two perspectives of the war, and the contrast between animation and real life highlight their formal properties as much as their narrative.
Both directors are internationally known for their works, and whilst both work extensively in documentary, their subjective style and approach is redolent of Kapuściński’s. Damian Nenow is a much celebrated, animated film director, who has shown films in over 90 festivals and received 25 awards for his efforts. His 2010 film City of Ruins was an animated documentary looking at Warsaw in spring 1945; it received much international attention and was screened at the Moscow International Film Festival. Raul de la Fuente is both director and founder of Kanaki films, who co-produced the film with Platige Image. His first feature film Nömadak Tx (2006) was the most awarded Spanish documentary film at International film festivals in 2007 (15 prizes and more than 100 festivals). His latest work, Virgen Negra (Black Virgin) has been Nominee for the Spanish Cinema Academy Awards Goya in 2012 for Best Documentary Short Film, and has won the Silver Biznaga at the Spanish Cinema Festival in Malaga.
With such a weight of talent behind its production, the film is sure to be both sympathetic to the Kapuściński original on which it is based, and provide a new, unique perspective on the Angolan conflict around its independence, and its lasting impact on the country.