“Catembe” or complaint from the young censored soul

Filmed in 1965, “Catembe”, is a fictional documentary directed by Manuel Faria de Almeida about the everyday life in Lourenço Marques. The most outstanding aspect of this film is the fact that it represents the first critical interpretation of the Portuguese colonial reality. After the original piece was censored – with 103 cuts and obliteration of the censored parts – the second version was banned. Only half of its 2400 original metres survived, which led to a reference in the Guinness Book of Records as the film with most censored cuts in the history of cinema. Screened twice after the end of the dictatorship, “Catembe” is yet to be blossom in a post-colonial context.

Catembe - 7 dias em Lourenço MarquesCatembe - 7 dias em Lourenço Marques

Maria do Carmo Piçarra: How does a promising director deal with such harsh censorship, as was the case of “Catembe”?
Faria de Almeida: A person becomes demoralized, bitter. If the film had come out openly and spontaneously, I would have moved on to do another one, and then another one and would have continued. As it was, things were over in terms of feature films.

MCP: Is it the death of the author prior to his full disclosure?
FA: Over time, I ended up doing documentaries. I lived of it.

MCP: Tell me a little of Faria de Almeida as a Film Society buff and then as a film student. How did the possibility to study abroad come about? What conditions were set by the Cinema Fund?
FA: I was one of the founding partners of the Lourenço Marques Film Society. We were lucky that censorship in Lourenço Marques was very good… We screened “Battleship Potemkine”, “The Mother”, during the Salazar regime. In 1958, 59, I began making amateur films and at one point we wanted to know whether these were any good and worth anything. I sent three or four of my films to festivals here in Portugal. Amazingly, the films won the first prize, second prize…

MCP: These were documentaries?
FA: Yes, documentaries. Meanwhile, a good friend of mine went to Lourenço Marques and was very enthusiastic about my eagerness to move beyond amateur filmmaking. Back in Portugal, he searched for ways on getting me a scholarship to study and do cinema.

MCP: When was this? Late 50’s?
FA: Around 60, 61. Seems to be 1960.

MCP: By that time, César Moreira Baptista was already heading the National Information Secretariat (NIS) and had started the policy of giving scholarships to educate…
FA: To educate young people. The London School accepted me. I went there after Fernando Lopes, of whom they had liked very much. We were three Portuguese in the course. One was self-funded, the other was supported by Gulbenkian Foundation. I had the scholarship from NIS.

MCP: Under particular conditions…
FA: After the scholarship period, I had to be in Portugal at least three years…

MCP: How long did the course in England last?
FA: Two years.

MCP: You made two short films….
FA: “Streets of Early Sorrow”, which I never shared with the censorship, otherwise it would have been banned. It was about a black South African and the carnage in Sharpeville1, during apartheid. It was the one that the school sent to Amsterdam, where it won. Then, in the second year, I did another film called “Viviana” which also had the music from “Angola is ours”.

MCP: Also a short film?
FA: But with a story. Foolishly I asked them to send me the original material and I rearranged it to see if I could take something with a priest, something from “Angola is ours”, anyway, something of the kind…I reworked it and it lost its soul. Despite this, I still tried to make it pass. It went to the censorship and was forbidden.

MCP: What happened to these films? Are they stored in the Portuguese Cinematheque?
FA: No. “Viviana” is not at the Cinematheque. But I have it stored somewhere. I don’t like how it turned out and preferred it as it was. I have the “Streets of Early Sorrow” saved. Actually, the gentleman that helped me get the scholarship… I showed him the film, in 16mm, at home and he said it was too leftist. He advised me not to show the film.

MCP: After the course, you had an invitation to the United States of America?
FA: No, it was actually to work with Tony Richardson in England. Ah, and it was to work for the United Nations.

MCP: You couldn’t accept it because of your obligations towards NIS…
FA: To be in Portugal for three years.

MCP: You also did a traineeship in France…
FA: It was at the Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques. Alfredo Tropa e a Teresa Olga were there, Alfredo doing the directors course and Teresa as a note-taker. They were in their last year and I participated in the last six months of that course. My objective was to work at the Cinematheque to be able to watch the films, read the film datasheets, and also learn a bit more.

MCP: While you were in France, António da Cunha Telles pushed for support and funding from the Cinema Fund for “Catembe”. How and when did the idea for the film come about? And what inspired you to use Direct Cinema?
FA: In England during that period, Direct Cinema was becoming very popular and we could see Dziga Vertov. Fernando Lopes ended up doing “Belarmino” in Direct Cinema. I don’t know. I liked Alain Resnais, Chris Marker and Agnès Varda very much. The “Clio From 5 to 7”, against the Algerian War.

MCP: And “Catembe”, how does it take shape? In Paris?
FA: Maybe, I have no idea.

MCP: In those times, the NIS was encouraging films that promoted the “Ultramarine Provinces” at the centre of the empire…
FA: That is where Cunha Telles role is important, who was one of the leaders in the Mocidade Portuguesa (Portuguese Youth Organisation from the dictatorship)… He was trusted by the regime. If he proposed a film on Lourenço Marques by a filmmaker from Lourenço Marques that had on top of this benefited from a Scholarship from the NIS, all seemed fine and acceptable.

MCP: How long did the shooting of “Catembe” take?
FA: Fifteen days, three weeks.

MCP: When you were filming “Catembe”, did you feel that everything was going to work out fine? Were you excited?
FA: I was excited and thought all was going fine. There was very limited funding, all was made under the minimum costs. Nothing was repeated.

MCP: Why did you choose to edit photographs and sounds when you film the lunch and siesta of the whites, in the first Sunday?
FA: I would say it was done for financial reasons. I’m not sure. We can hear the man eating, and after the curry, having his nap.

MCP: “Catembe” is the other side of Maputo. In the original film it was also a girl. In the censored version, she nearly disappears. She appears in three or four inarticulate sequences, without an obvious meaning in the film. The fictional story of Catembe was completely reedited…
FA: Completely. The bars – the Luso – all that was cut…

MCP: What did Catembe mean to you?
FA: That’s a good one. What a mischievous question… I don’t know.

MCP: At what point to you really realise that the film was not going to be screened?
FA: When I receive the second letter from the censorship informing the its screening was not appropriate. It was over. I took the film and sent it to the Cinematheque.

MCP: When the Cinematheque organized in the 1980s the catalogue of the “New Cinema” cycle, it asked filmmakers from the movement to elect the ten most important Portuguese films. You included “Catembe” in your list. Was it for its symbolic value?
FA: Maybe. I don’t remember that list anymore but I would think so. It’s important not to forget.

MCP: “Catembe” should be seen?
FA: This version although short is still very interesting. When Dr. Félix Ribeiro was heading the Cinematheque he screened “Catembe”. In the previous day on the TV news hour, Carlos Pinto Coelho asked him something about “Catembe” and how people would know it was being screened, at the Cinematheque…

MCP: Did the room fill up?
FA: Completely. Dr. Félix Ribeiro let people in until the room was bursting, everyone was sitting on the floor.

MCP: Was there any debate after the screening?
FA: I was ready for that. But I didn’t take the initiative. I was a little blown away by watching the film, and feeling that people had liked it. So many people, so many people… I was a left a little out of words. And didn’t take the initiative. I was sitting in the back…

MCP: Did you feel that people liked it?
FA: Yes, and more. When I was in Macau (with RTP), I was told that Dr. Félix Ribeiro had once again screened the movie at the Cinematheque and my daughter who was at the time here in Portugal finishing her degree in Agronomy went, and told me it had gone very well. This was in 1984.

MCP: Do you feel that due to this story you ended up not thriving as a fictional filmmaker?
FA: Perhaps that was it. One cannot know.


  • 1. The Sharpeville Massacre took place on the 21 de March 1960, when South African police opened fire on a crowd of black protesters.
Translation:  Diana Costa

by Maria do Carmo Piçarra
Afroscreen | 16 May 2010 | mozambique