Kanraxël – The Confluence of Agnack presented at the AHRC Commons first national event, by Chouette Films

Throughout centuries and spanning across continents, midsummer has been steeped in mysticism, rituals and folklore. And on 21 June – Midsummer’s Eve – there was no doubt that the spirits of Casamance were among us as we at Chouette Films and the Crossroads Project were able to impart some of the wisdom of Casamance’s people to a wider audience.

On the day, Crossroads PhD students Samantha Goodchild and Miriam Weidl gave a talk at the Translanguaging Symposium at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Ethnic and Religious Diversity in Göttingen, Germany. At the same time, Chouette Films held a presentation at the AHRC Commons’ first national event, Common Ground, at the University of York. The event’s aim was to establish a new forum where Arts and Humanities researchers from a range of subject areas and disciplines can collaborate with other colleagues. Participants from organisations across the UK ran the event, including universities and colleges, cultural organisations, museums and galleries – and the activities ranged from theatrical performances to debates and film screenings.

As winners of last year’s AHRC Film in Research award, we had the honour of screening our prize-winning film Kanraxël – The Confluence of Agnack at the event’s film zone. The film depicts daily multilingual practices in Agnack, one of the field sites of the Crossroads project, where Friederike Lüpke, whose research inspired the film, conducts her fieldwork.


Children in Agnack grow up with at least three language, and many of them master four or more by the time they start school.

Our producer and a PhD candidate at the London Film School/University of Exeter, Anna Sowa’s presentation on ‘Indigenous multilingualism in research and teaching’ explored the relationship between research, methodology and the filmmaking process. Dr Ian McDonald, the event’s film zone leader, commented: “Anna’s presentation highlighted the need for respect and a strong ethical dimension to academic research and film production in developing countries. Anna mentioned that her team had donated their AHRC award to the villagers of Casamance as a gift and as recognition of the villagers’ status as, in effect, co-producers of the film. The presentation raised pertinent issues as we seek to raise the profile of filmmaking as practice-led research in the Academy. In bringing together grounded theory and method with a beautiful cinematic treatment of the anthropological film genre, the presentation struck the right mood and balance that set up the day to come.”

Kanraxël was well received by the audience, and after the screening, several important questions were raised: can a film be used as a tool for social change? Can a film make an impact, a tangible difference? These are especially timely questions now, amidst discussions on growing multiculturalism and in times of political uncertainty. Perhaps the people of Casamance could teach us a thing or two about tolerance and diversity…?


And what better time to start unravelling some of these questions than now: a few months ago, we sent an application to the SOAS Impact Fund to develop a set of online teaching resources and impact activities around the film. Yet again, it seems that the spirits of Casamance were on our side, as our application was approved and we are currently developing teaching materials aimed at university students and secondary school pupils. Our goal is to draw attention to the multilingual richness of the continent. We also want students from diverse backgrounds to discover connections to their own language practices – and embrace the different languages they might have grown up with. Above all, we want to highlight the richness and many benefits associated with multilingualism and multiculturalism. The new and exciting website, kanraxelfilm.co.uk, will be launched in September.


The poster for the film shows the confluence (Kanraẍel in the patrimonial language of Agnack) of two rivers that offers the beautiful metaphor that we extended to the effortless way in which people meet and mix in Casamance.


Although we are not claiming to be able to change the world, we believe that films like Kanraxël, along with the materials available the upcoming website, can equip audiences to rethink the ways in which multilingualism and multiculturalism are conceptualised. As Samm Haillay, a senior film producer and presenter at the AHRC Commons event, said, “An artist’s job is not to try and answer the huge questions, but to pose them in a way that engages those who are watching. The key is to get the audience to consider these questions, to look at their life and attempt to find their own meanings.”


Watch this space for the big launch of the new Kanraxël website this autumn. For a taster, watch this clip showing one of the protagonists and giving insight into often overlooked women’s trajectories, identities and language use here.

You can follow the film’s success and join the conversation on diversity and multilingualism on Twitter and Facebook using #KANRAXEL

Maxime – languaging without boundaries, by Miriam Weidl

Living and working with people for whom it is a norm rather than a curiosity to speak more than three languages in everyday conversations is not only fascinating but also sharpens one’s mind. Aware of the number of languages present, the high pace of switches between them, the normality of the mixing and knowledge of at least some of the languages brought me to a point where a mixed use of “codes” often constitutes an adequate way of speaking for myself. Clearly influenced by the people of the villages of Djibonker and Brin, Casamance, I unconsciously started to mix German with other languages without noticing when talking to my family on the phone, who commented on this and raised my awareness of it. Now having been in Senegal for more than two months I often have to remind my linguist’s brain not to forget to think about how people use their linguistic repertoires instead of just accepting mixing and the flow that comes with it.

Asking one of my most frequent questions – what language did you use and why? – which I can now express in different languages and mixtures of them, depending on whom I am talking to in which context, I am definitely expecting an answer, even if it is that the person I’m asking says that he or she does not know. Then one day, our team had the pleasure of being introduced to Maxime Sagna who is, to our knowledge, the only deaf person in the village of Djibonker, and suddenly this highly significant question for my research became impossible to ask.

Maxime must now be around 16 years old and came to the village nearly five years ago from Ziguinchor, where he grew up. He did not get the chance to receive any formal education and has not learned any recognised sign language but takes part in communication whenever he has a chance, living an active, inquisitive and engaged life.


Getting to know each other, I’ve tried many different ways to talk about Maxime’s language use to him, and also asked people conversing with him, receiving puzzled looks and answers like “Maxime does not speak” or “He speaks with his hands, it is not a language”. It is unnecessary to mention that my follow-up questions (and me somehow hoping to hear “the name of a language”) confused the discussion about his language use in various ways.

Yet, Maxime is vividly talking all day long and absolutely proficient to make himself clear in a conversation, expressing what he wants to say, explaining even difficult topics, living up to his responsibilities, negotiation work and money issues or just fooling around with his friends. Not only is he able to speak to everyone in the village, also everybody seemingly knows how to communicate with him. Highly interested in what exactly is going on, but unable to ask the question – what language do you use? – Andrés Carvajal, a documentary film-maker and visual anthropologist, and I decided to accompany Maxime in his daily activities, recording a short documentary since that seemed to be the only way to capture as much of the sociolinguistic situations as possible.

The time we spent together opened our eyes and also made us think more and gain a progressive understanding of the complexity of linguistic repertoires and multilingualism.


Carvajal, Andrés & Miriam Weidl (2016) Maxime – languaging without boundaries. Short film. In: Voices from around the world. Special issue on multilingualism in the Global South. Global South Studies Center, University of Cologne.

Big thanks to our friend Maxime and everybody who participated in the documentary. In memory of Maxime’s grandfather Pierre Manga, who succumbed to his severe illness in March 2016.


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