Docpoint – Helsinki Documentary Film Festival

Programme

THE LETTER

If there is a bad harvest, it’s because of witchcraft. If there is a good harvest, it is also because of witchcraft. It’s a tricky place to be.

News reports detail swinging machetes along the Kilifi coastal town in Kenya, however it is not the corn harvest that they cut down, but rather elderly people who have been accused of witchcraft. Now the deadly claim has been laid on Karisa Kamango’s 95-year-old grandmother Margaret. She doesn’t give much credence to such threats, yet her family are scared, and so they should be.

Christopher King’s and Maia Lekow’s serene documentary follows Karisa as she sets out to discover who has sent the threatening letter to her grandmother, which calls her a child murderer, and why. The letter contains a drawing of a jungle machete, and there are even whispers of paid mercenaries who specialise in killing witches. In the Christian town of Kenia, hundreds of families have turned against their elders, accusing them of witchcraft. By slinging the accusations, younger generations oftentimes attempt to grab the farmland that their family’s elders have inherited from their ancestors. Behind the allegations is a clear motive of greed, but a superstitious culture and the trauma of colonial violence also have a lot to answer for. Despite the intense subject, the film itself delivers a calmly progressing documentary which was chosen as Kenya’s nominee in the foreign language category for the 2021 Oscars.

Marko Ylitalo (Translation: Lydia Taylerson)

Title: THE LETTER
Language: English, Swahili
Subtitles: English
Director: Maia Lekow, Christopher King
Production Country: Kenya
Year: 2019
Length (min): 81
Age limit: K12
Cinematographer: Christopher King
Screenplay: Ricardo Acosta, Christopher King, Maia Lekow
Editing: Ricardo Acosta, Christopher King
Music: Maia Lekow, Ken Myhr
Producer: Maia Lekow, Christopher King
Production Company: Circle and Square Productions