Eight months after Robert Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe autocratically since 1980, was ousted in a 2017 coup, the country was set to elect a new president in the first democratic election since Mugabe’s rule began.
Camilla Nielsson gives viewers a front row seat to that July 2018 election in ‘President’, a compelling documentary that follows Nelson Chamisa, a charismatic 40-year-old lawyer, as he takes on Emmerson Mnangagwa, the strongman who dethroned Mugabe .
Nielsson’s entry into Chamisa provides an intimate look at the Catch-22 of establishing a democracy amid state-sanctioned violence and corruption, and the courage of those who fight for it. The juxtaposition of the candidates’ strategies becomes apparent when both sides arrive at a courthouse on a pivotal case, the camera first turning to the pile of papers the opposition will use to defend its case and then to the police setting up night bars.
Chamisa repeatedly says that he is willing to die for his cause. His charisma and connection to the people make him an excellent anchor for the film, which reflects and represents Zimbabwe’s decades-long struggle for a fair democracy. The film contains harrowing images of civilians being beaten, hosed and shot at by the military and police for demonstrating in support of Chamisa.
President Mnangagwa claims election victory despite opposition allegations of vote-rigging. It’s a bleak ending to a film that begins with and is sustained by Zimbabweans’ hopes for change.
Not judged. Running time: 2 hours. In theatres.