Multilingualism Agnack style at the Southbank, by Friederike Lüpke

It feels great that a documentary on multilingualism in one of the Crossroads field sites has brought the vibe and feel of Agnack, a tiny village in Lower Casamance to London – and won! The film KANRAXËL: The Confluence of Agnack won the AHRC research in film award in the category “Best film produced by a researcher or research team in the last year”. The judges’ verdict: t
his is “a beautifully filmed and scripted film,”,  “a highly sophisticated film, beautifully shot, cut, and recorded, which conveys the nature of multilingual life in the village very effectively indeed.”

For me, the film is also a very special achievement, because it is the outcome of a collaborative adventure that  started out with sheer serendipity but required a tremendous amount of hard work and resilience from idea to final cut. It all started when Anna Sowa, the producer of the film,  took part in an internship at my fieldsite in Agnack as part of the AHRC-funded collaborative skills development scheme “Language research and teaching in a multilingual world”  in 2013. She dragged along Remigiusz Sowa, the director of the film, so that they could shoot the footage for a film on multilingualism.  Together, Anna and Remi run ChAHRC award ceremonyouette Films, an award-winning production company committed to using film as a tool for social change.

Little did we know of the many challenges that were waiting for us along the road – obtaining funding was one of the practical hurdles, and many people ended up doing
a lot of pro bono work – thank you to all of them. Making a meaningful selection of scenes in the light of the fact that they figured up to 8 languages of which we didn’t speak at most 2 was another trial. Without Alpha Naby Mané, my main language consultant and technical genius from Agnack, it would simply have been impossible to make sense of the most simple interactions. Naby created all the subtitles and translated them into three languages, and lent his beautiful voice to two of the voice-overs. Watch this space for more details about future screening dates.

Together with Alpha Naby Mané, we plan to create teaching materials aimed at changing the ways in which the public perceives African languages (as “dialects”) and multilingualism (as impurity and outcome of urbanisation and globalisation only). The materials will be made available on a website, with the film as the centre piece.

Friederike Lüpke


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