ZAM Reporter

IDFA 2019 | The Letter. Witches are about money, jealousy and blame-gaming

One of the most moving films at the upcoming international documentary festival tells the story of witchcraft. This Kenyan production, directed by Christopher King and Maia Lekow, tells the shocking story of Karisa’s grandmother who is accused of witchcraft. He travels from Mombasa to her rural home to find out who’s behind it. It turns out that the threatening letter his grandmother received came from a member of his own family.

Karisa’s conversations with his relatives reveal how his uncles are accusing grandma while his aunts are trying to protect her, and how the accusations result from a combination of superstition and economic motives. Grandma is not the only one being targeted—hundreds of elders are being branded as witches as a means to steal their land.

As the film progresses, we gain a deeper understanding of how this rural community’s values have been disrupted by colonialism and religion. We also witness Karisa’s love for his grandmother and her fearless spirit, the understated power of women, and the resilience of family despite the growing threat of greed.

Beautiful scenery contradicts an intensely cruel phenomenon falsely worshipped as ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’. Money, jealousy and blame gaming are behind rumours and accusations disrupting a family and a community. But Karisa’s granny is having none of it.

The Letter is not the story of an isolated incident. The belief in witchcraft manifests itself widely in traumatised societies, its social and economic impact must not be underestimated.

Screenings are announced for 23, 25, 27, 29 and 30 November at IDFA, Amsterdam. More information here.
Watch the trailer here.
ZAM stories on witchcraft here and here.