Les 16 de Basse-Pointe, a feature-length documentary film by French-Antilles director Camille Mauduech, tells the story of «the murder trial that put colonialism in the dock.” On September 6, 1948, Guy de Fabrique, the white creole (beké) administrator of a Martinican sugar estate in Leyritz (northern Martinique), was killed by 36 machete blows. It took three years for the sixteen black sugar cane workers from the community of Basse-Pointe who were charged with the crime to be brought to trial. The documentary traces the little-known events which constituted, according to Mauduech, an indictment of the colonial system in Martinique. “This trial was really the first time that people challenged those responsible for colonialism in Martinique, which, don’t forget, had been a French department for two years,” said Mauduech.
The trial of the Basse-Pointe sixteen opened in Bordeaux on August 9, 1951. The accused were farm workers, sugar cane laborers and union members. They were supported by an impressive array of lawyers—a team of eleven lawyers, many of them from the French Communist Party—who in the space of a week persuaded the jury of the men’s innocence. Their acquittal was due to an excellent defense, but “it was also the result of political calculations. The French government was trying to destroy Martinique’s Communist Party. When it saw that it couldn’t, it had to acquit the accused – otherwise, there would have been a revolution in Martinique. This acquittal allowed the colonial system to continue, untroubled.” For Camille Mauduech, it was a Pyrrhic victory for the West Indians. “I always say these men were heroes in Bordeaux,” she says with passion, “but never on their own island.”
Les 16 de Basse-Pointe is a personal voyage for Mauduech, the daughter of a Marseillais father and a Martinican mother. Her dual identity gave her a privileged and intimate standpoint from which to tell this moving story of a forgotten part of France’s colonial past. “It was very difficult for me to accept my mixed background when I was an adolescent in Martinique,” she acknowledges. “This personal challenge plunged me further into the making of this film, in a quest for my own identity. Now, I see that Martinique made me who I am: a film-maker and a woman with a composite family. My own mixed background became an accomplice in my investigation. It allowed me to talk in Créole and to be accepted as somebody from here. I was able to reach people and acquire a kind of legitimacy to talk about an affair that no one spoke of in the last 60 years. And with this film, I feel like I’ve repaid a certain debt to this island.”
Mauduech’s 98-minute documentary comes out shortly after a prolonged social conflict in the French West Indies. The director feels there is a link between today’s crisis and the realities she studies in her film. “Each time there’s been a strong economic crisis in Martinique, the people have mobilized,” she says. “But since the country was founded on a colonialist basis that was very profound—and is still present nowadays –all social conflicts very quickly get submerged by historic and racial questions. “It’s absolutely inevitable in this country: as long as we haven’t worked out the fundamental questions of historic hatred and bitterness, nothing will change. Because the actors in our history are still present nowadays, even if the wealth is shared out differently.”
For more go to http://www.rfi.fr/actuen/articles/112/article_3630.asp