" FREE AFRICA! "

 Germany 1999     83 minutes     Color and b/w     DigitalBetacam

The goal aim of the 1976 version of the board game "Risk" is "to invade other countries, neighbouring countries in particular, to conquer continents and the world and to vanquish your enemies. The first person to succeed in gaining world domination is the winner."

...and in the 1990 version: "In this game there are  as in reality, unfortunately  spheres of influence, whose continued existence is upheld by occupation forces. The goal of "Risiko" is to liberate countries and continents from occupying armies and to lead them to independence."

  The film tells the story of German military involvement in Africa from 1940 to the present day. It's also a film about the German myth of Africa: 500 excerpts from movies, reports, documentaries, comic strips, commercials, music videos and computer games illustrate the German image of Africa over the last 50 years, including material from East und West German archives that has never been shown before. War veterans, legionnaires and officers talk about their African dream. It's a densely woven, fast paced collage about German military policy in Africa and the interaction between politics and popular myths.

Free Africa! is a documentary about both the image of Africa in Germany and about Germany's role in the so called "Black Continent". The film describes German politics pertaining to Africa since World War Two through the use of popular representations of Africa and common perceptions  and misperceptions  of the life of its peoples. It explores the ways in which Germans in the East and West have viewed and visualized Africa, and it reveals what Europeans may have tried to find in a real and an imaginary Africa over the last fifty years.

Free Africa! also documents the end of colonialism and the establishment of independent nations through popular images of Africa and its people in West and East Germany. These representations can be benign or malicious; they are often distorting, sometimes entertaining, at other times insulting, educational, or ridiculous. Since these images are shaped mostly by what Europeans imagined "Africa" to be, they sharply reveal how popular myths came to influence far reaching political attitudes and actions. The mythic Africa is inhabited by Black actors and such prominent German screen legends as Hans Albers in "Carl Peters," and Heinz Ruhmann in "Quax in Africa" and "Liane  the Girl from the Jungle." Black cannibals abound in news reports, and mercenaries, adventurers, big game hunters and man eating natives inhabit many of these clips.

Over a period of four years, thousands of hours of footage were viewed in order to gain an understanding of the visual representation of Africa in both Germanies after the war. A wide variety of material, including feature films, commercials, children's programs, animal shows, charity broadcasts, and promotional, educational and propaganda films were collected from archives from around the world. A significant number of the selected segments have never been shown to the public. With five hundred clips from over seventy films from the 1940's to the 1990's that are woven into a seamless narrative, Free Africa! documents that the popular images of Africa which had long been considered overcome continue to appear in many representations of Africa to this day.

  There are no comments or voice overs on the segments from the films and the interviews, not are there insertions of names or movie titles. Parts of the story are told by Germans who spent time in African nations. Aside from their dreams and the fact that they stayed in Africa at some point between 1941 and 1990, the interviewees have in common that they were there as soldiers, legionaries, mercenaries, officers, or members of a German military force or other armed forces such as the French Foreign Legion. Many of these veterans are telling their stories for the first time on camera. These men's stories are at once reminders of a troubling past and yet convey the former soldiers' hurt and anger over the all‑but official silence and denial which blankets much of Germany's post war presence and actions in Africa.   In 1993, the news media reported from Belet Huen in Somalia that "for the first time since 1943," German troops were in Africa as part of UN efforts. This bit of news, however, was far from the truth. In the years between World War Two and the reunification of Germany in 1990, the two Germanies maintained at times very intensive "military political relations" with several African nations. In the former East Germany, such relations were called "International Solidarity in the Armed Struggle;" in the Federal Republic of Germany, the name for such military political relations was, roughly translated, "Equipment Aid [Ausrustungshilfe]." In the reunited Germany, such engagement is now called "Provision Aid [Ausstattungshilfe]." 

  In Free Africa!, the so called "Black Continent" exists in celluloid but also as an actual model. Africa is a meticulously reconstruced three dimensional representation of African landscapes in reduced size: a diorama. The Sahara is inhabited by tiny figures of "natives" and "desert foxes," (the latter being a "nickname" for German soldiers in Africa) which are surrounded by appropriately scaled small models of German made tanks of the type "Tiger". Rommel's Africa Corps is available as a complete set of plastic toy soldiers and weaponry in toystores even today just like a small version of the ultramodern war helicopter "Tiger" "very useful to fight civil uprisings," according to the press releases is found in many European children's rooms. Thus, there are tigers in the imaginary Africa games and in the filmic Africa, while in the real Africa one finds only weapons of this name.

  In Free Africa!, a rather serious game is played with the diorama (the toy sized Africa) and the film segments (the filmic Africa) about actual African wars and about the German interests and involvement in these wars. After starling scenes from popular German movies about the German presence in Africa during and after World War Two are shown, the same sites and individuals reappear in their reconstruction in the diorama. The brutal realities of colonialism and warfare emerge searingly through this double mediation of the German presence in Africa in popular films and toy worlds created for children. News footage from Africa suddenly looks startlingly unreal, and the real diorama presents a vision of Africa that exposes all other sources of information to be inevitably distorted by popular myths. 
Through the juxtapositions of the diorama and clips from existing films, Free Africa! thus presents the actual history of Germany's relations to Africa as indissociable from popular images. The collage created out of the images of the mythic Africa and its toy sized equivalent enacts the children's game of the Discovery, the Conquest, and the Liberation of Africa.

The film's title Free Africa! [Befreien Sie Afrika!] is found in the instructions to the globally popular boardgame "Risk". In the seventies, the aim of "Risk" was to "Conquer the World." In the 1990's, the aim of "Risk" had become to "Free the World."