Ghosts of an Empire / Fantasmas do império

(Documentary, Portugal/France, 2020, 112’, C, En ST)

by Ariel de Bigault

Ghosts of an Empire


Ghosts of an Empire explores the power of colonial identity in Portuguese cinema since the beginning of the 20th century. As a contrast to the productions that related imperial domination, films by different generation of Portuguese filmmakers, as well as their testimonies, unmask the myths that have been dressing up the violent gest of colonial exploitation and that still inhabit memories today. The contrasts between the images, the various analyses and attitudes reveal very topical questions.


«The most fascinating images are those that show the work of imagination around the figure of the “kind savage man”. Never filmed as people but rather as objects for a study, the blacks are shown in their traditional garments during ancestral ceremonies, highlighting their folkloric and exotic side. The colonialists are presented as friendly masters. In the old films, very sensitive to the strong luminosity of Africa, the Portuguese invaders wearing only white appear overexposed, in a phosphorescent aura like magical ghosts. This fabricated collective memory is to be deconstructed. Such is the necessary task taken upon by today filmmakers.» Anne DessuantTélérama

Film Author :

Ariel de Bigault
Ariel de Bigault

In Portugal, Brazil and Africa, Ariel de Bigault, French author and director, has been exploring Portuguese-speaking cultures for years. Her film career began in Lisbon with documentaries. Then came the meeting with Brazil and the series Éclats Noirs du Samba (1987), with the great artists Gilberto Gil, Grande Othelo, Martinho da Vila, Paulo Moura, Zézézé Motta, celebrating Afro-Brazilian creation. She has contributed to the dissemination of African urban music: Anthologie des Musiques du Cap Vert 1959-1992 (1995), Musiques Urbaines d’Angola 1956-1998 (1999) and many records. The film Canta Angola (2000) shows the resistance of popular music artists in a war-torn Angola. Afro Lisboa (1996) reveals the faces and voices of various generations of African immigration in Lisbon. Margem Atlântica (2006) introduces us to authors, actors and musicians of African origins – Mariza, José Eduardo Agualusa, Kalaf Ângelo, Ângelo Torres – whose creations captivated audiences. Ghosts of an Empire, on the colonial imagination in Portuguese cinema, is a new stage in her Afro-Lusophone journey.

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