Mueda, Memoria e Massacre 1979

Ruy Guerra / Mozambique 1979 / 1h20m / Portuguese with English subtitles / 15

Mueda, Memoria e Massacre


Lost until 2009, when it was rediscovered in Maputo’s archives, Mueda, Memória e Massacre by Ruy Guerra is a central work of Cinema Novo. Generally considered to be the first fiction feature film from independent Mozambique, it is a masterpiece of anti-colonial memory. The film shows a public reenactment staged by non-professionals of the massacre in Mueda (a city in northern Mozambique) carried out by the Portuguese in 1960. This event triggered the armed resistance in Mozambique and was remembered regularly by means of popular reenactments.

Catarina Simao, Portuguese artist, curator and filmmaker, worked with Ruy Guerra and Arsenal (Institut für Film und Videokunst) in Berlin on restoring the film. She was in attendance at the screening to introduce the film and for a Q&A afterwards. This screening was part of AiM’s focus on Africa’s Lost Classics, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), with the generous support of the Instituto Camoes at Edinburgh University.  


Arsenal - Institut für Film und Videokunst e.V. 
Potsdamer Str. 2 
10785 Berlin Deutschland 
Tel.: (49-30) 26955 150 
Fax : (49-30) 26955 111



Lusophone Film Festival | CCA Glasgow | 9 June 2018

Africa in Motion Film Festival | Filmhouse, Edinburgh | 31 Oct 2017

Film Africa Film Festival | SOAS, London | 6 Nov 2017

Melbourne International Film Festival | Melbourne, Australia | Aug 2018

This sequence gives insight into the enacted nature of the memory of the Mueda massacre

Lost until 2009, when it was rediscovered in Maputo’s archives, Mueda, Memória e Massacre by Ruy Guerra is a central work of Cinema Novo. It is generally considered to be the first fiction feature film from independent Mozambique, the product of a radical revolutionary government that sought to combine politics and culture in the formation of new nation. Mueda represents a unique distillation of cinema history and politics. The film portrays a public re-enactment, staged by non-professionals, of the massacre in Mueda carried out by the Portuguese in 1960 (an event which triggered the armed resistance in Mozambique and was regularly commemorated by means of popular re-enactments).

Director info

Born in Maputo in 1931, Guerra studied film in Paris before moving to Brazil, where he made a number of successful films. His first two films – The Unscrupulous Ones (1962) and The Guns (1964) – were admired by international critics. He was considered an important figure in the cinema novo movement and was the first director of the Cinema Novo group to shoot outside of Brazil. He was also the director who filmed the works of Gabriel García Márquez, his friend since 1972. He returned to his birthplace in Mozambique in 1980. Guerra was chosen to create the first feature length film of the new nation, depicting the founding historical event, the massacre of Mueda.

Historical & cultural context

‘Birth of the image, birth of the nation’

The film provides valuable insight into the motivations of the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) the new self-declared Marxist-Leninist state. One of the first major projects of the new government, less than a year after independence, was the creation of the new Mozambique National Institute of Cinema. In a country where 90% of people were illiterate, FRELIMO identified cinema as the most efficient means to decolonize the nation’s history and create a new national identity. In a country with many different ethnic groups where many different languages were spoken, the unification of citizens into a singular cultural identity would be essential for the survival of the state.

Towards this end, the government set out to create a radical new form of media that would also allow the country to further distance itself ideologically and aesthetically (visually) from its former western European colonizers. In the absence of any cinematic or television infrastructure, outside help was needed and an appeal went out to film professionals from all over the world. Some of the most notable figures to hear the call were Jean-Luc Goddard, Jean Rouch, Santiago Alvarez and Ruy Guerra. Goddard was to set up an innovative new television, or anti-television network in a project known as, ‘Birth of the image, birth of the nation’ (see images below)

‘The massacre of Mueda’

The massacre took place in Makonde plateau, the capital of the Mueda district, in northeastern Mozambique on 16 June 1960.  Local people assembled outside the Portuguese colonial headquarters to demand better living and working conditions. The authorities began shooting protesters and many others were thrown to their death in a ravine. Nationalists maintain that 600 people were killed while Portuguese authorities put the figure at less than 100. The liberation movement, Frelimo, was founded in the aftermath of the massacre, which is considered a pivotal moment in galvanizing nationalist support.

For 20 years after the achievement of independence in 1976, the people of Mueda performed a theatrical dramatization of the massacre in-situ and one of these occasions forms the basis for Guerra’s film. The performance is based on a play by Calisto dos Lagos, who is credited as the film’s screenwriter and dramatic director.  The people of Mueda, many of whom actually witnessed the massacre, play both the colonial authorities and the protestors.


‘According to Guerra (2011), it is a movie about the massacre’s ‘mythical significance’, the transformation of an act of cruelty into an act of joy and about the self-representation of the people engaged in the revolutionary process.’

The film intercuts interviews with survivors with shots from the re-enactment. It is this combination of depiction of a historical event and theatrical drama that starts to push the film into an uncertain genre. In some ways the film is a documentary about the re-enactment or an ethnographic film about the people of Mueda performing. However, (as Rachel Schefer has observed), the film defies this categorization as the action inside the colonial building was restaged for the film. The shots of people outside the building are a real depiction of the performance. To complicate things further, during filming of the staged indoor scenes, the people outside spontaneously began the performance again. In this way the people are spectators and actors but also active participants. Although the film follows the structure of the actual re-enactment, it includes shots from at least two different re-enactments.

The film also functions as an archive. There are no archival images or footage from the actual event; if they ever existed they have either been lost or suppressed by the colonial authorities. The performance then was a way for the historical event to be visualized and commemorated. The film records this, allowing a version of the events to be archived.  Control of the archive, in a post-colonial context is important for the formation of a collective memory and culture. Indeed, the film is as much an archive of the politics and motivations of the revolutionary government as it is a historical account. The film was re-edited without Guerra’s control, with certain scenes being re-shot. Apparently elements of the film’s historical narrative disrupted the version of events which the government wished to present. Ideologically, the original edit seemed not to glorify the revolt enough and make clear the link between the actions of the people and the independence of the nation.  The film also ignores the fact that some of the original protesters were campaigning for an independent state of Mueda rather than a nation of Mozambique.


After initial release it was screened at a number of film festivals including Tashkent Film Festival in 1980. Essentially ‘lost’ until 2009 when it was recovered from the archives and exhibited at Mozambique’s Dockanema Festival in 2009. It has been restored and made more widely available in 2017 by Arsenal in Berlin who worked on the restoration with the Institute in Mozambique and artist catarina Simao, who we owe much of the rediscovery of Mozambique’s film archive to, thanks to her research and art practice. She is a guest of the festival this year.



  • Schefer, Raquel, The Birth of Fiction: 
On Mueda, Memória e Massacre (Ruy Guerra, 1979), in Africa’s Lost Classics: New Histories of African Cinema (2015: Legenda Moving Image), Lizelle Bisschoff & David Murphy (eds.)

  • Daniel Fairfax, ‘Birth of the Image of a Nation - Jean Luc Godard in Mozambique | Jean Luc Godard.’ ACTA UNIV. SAPIENTIAE, FILM AND MEDIA STUDIES, 3 (2010): 55–67

  • Schefer, Raquel. ‘Fictions of the Liberation Struggle: Ruy Guerra, José Cardoso, Zdravko Velimirovic.’ Kronos 39, no. 1 (January 2013): 298–315.