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FILMS / REVIEWS Tanzania / Ireland / Switzerland

Review: Samira’s Dream


- Nino Tropiano’s documentary is an honest account of the life of Samira, who dreams of becoming an independent woman through education

Review: Samira’s Dream

Nino Tropiano’s new documentary, entitled Samira’s Dream, tells a simple tale, but one rich in honesty. The film was recently presented at the Zanzibar International Film Festival (20-25 July). A partner of the African event, Cineuropa organised several screenings in local villages as well as debates on the role of education in empowering Tanzanian women. 

Over the last two years, Tropiano’s documentary was presented in about 20 other gatherings, including the Matera Film Festival, Cameroon’s Semaine du Cinéma, Ireland’s IFI Documentary Film Festival and the Rome Independent Film Festival. An alumnus of Dublin’s IADT, before working on this feature, Tropiano helmed other non-fiction works, such as Chippers and My Daughter Makes the Madonna.

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In Samira’s Dream, the Monopoli-born director chooses to follow the titular twenty-year-old woman, who lives in Nungwi, a small fishing village in the island of Zanzibar. Samira grew up in a strict Muslim society, within a reality that pressured her into marriage. Through the director’s voice over, we realise that the meeting with Samira happened almost by chance, when a group of local women agreed to share their stories. That casual encounter resulted in intense research work covering about seven years of her life.

Samira, as opposed to many other Tanzanian women of her age, dreams big and wishes to become an independent woman. Obviously, she sees no conflict between achieving personal realisation, and being a mother and a wife. She believes in the power of education to reach knowledge, awareness and economic independence. What is ordinary and totally reasonable in Western society makes her revolutionary in the highly patriarchal and religiously conservative context she lives in. And this is essentially the backbone of Tropiano’s documentary: he tells a tale of empowerment portraying Samira, step by step, taking life in her hands.

Besides a few voice-over interventions which allow Tropiano to interconnect scenes smoothly and to provide a minimum of contextualisation, the director and his two directors of photography — Vittoria Fiumi and Pina Mastropiero — adopt an observational approach, accessing the places of Samira’s life with prudent discretion but also with great intimacy. Despite hosting a plurality of voices, the film’s main focus remains on the young woman, who gradually becomes the protagonist of an uplifting parable as her ambitions grow, together with the struggles she has to face and the demons of her past. In this respect, a crucial aspect defining Samira’s biography is her mother’s premature demise and the estranged relationship she developed with her father who, after losing Samira’s mother, married twice.

The closing scene, shot in January 2021, is rewarding for the viewers but, more importantly, for Samira herself, who becomes an active part of a virtuous circle that can give Tanzanian women new, much-needed hopes. Tropiano’s documentary ultimately accomplishes its mission; it tells an engaging biography but also reminds the viewer of the importance of education in fighting for freedom and prosperity. It’s a universal message that can touch anyone, and so does this film.

Samira’s Dream was produced by Dublin-based outfit Fall Films and co-produced by Swiss firm Framework, with the support of Ireland’s Simon Cumbers Media Fund, the European Union’s Creative Europe - MEDIA programme and the Swiss Embassy of Tanzania.

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