In Marie Galante, a tiny island off the coast of Guadeloupe, in the french West Indies, the past speaks up. The island is still covered with sugar cane fields. The cane still shapes the destiny of men and sugar is still made out of their sweat in the groaning and roaring of machines.
They are workers and planters and devote their strength to the survival of their old sugar factory: Grand Anse. It’s a cathedral of rusty iron living on borrowed time for 30 years, whose old cast iron boiler is out of breath. Here the past resurfaces, in the timeless landscapes, the anachronistic shape of the factory, the unchanged gestures of the labour, the endurance that it requires.
I bring back to the workers of the factory a part of their heritage: the transcription of the words pronounced by slaves at the trial of their master in 1842. They seize and embody these words of Negroes, thus giving back to life a memory that still forges their present.
And soon, reconnected to a collective identity, they raise their own voices. The cane has been the instrument of their forefather’s damnation, and remains, against all odds, the instrument of their dignity.
Dir. Sylvain Dampierre - 80min - 2020 - France, Guadeloupe
"This pointed film is built on a potent conceit: modern-day sugar factory workers in Guadeloupe, reciting testimonies given by slaves in the 19th century at the trial of a white master, come to realise how little has changed." Sight & Sound
"The past returns in all its ugliness and torment in Sylvaine Dampierre’s rigorous documentary which challenges the preconceived notion that the march of time automatically parallels the march of progress...Slavery is long abolished, yet the current system of exploitation continues to leave little agency to the workers" - The Guardian
"A stunningly shot poetic essay that has workers...building a bridge between past and present" - The Film Verdict
"The testimonies of the slaves from back then in the rusty halls of today give rise to a polyphony both explosive and poetic in nature" - DOK Leipzig, Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize
"Dampierre subtly intertwines contemporary globalization with abuses stretching back centuries. “We were those slaves!” exclaims one of the workers in surprise after reading the testimonies." - IDFA