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Photo by
Francoise Ellong


Buried: A Thriller on Power, Abuse & Trauma

We talk to the director Francoise Ellong

BY Agnes Amondi

Nov 09, 2022, 08:30 AM

Photo by

Francoise Ellong
When Benin-born Cameroonian screenwriter and director Francoise Ellong set out to film her award-winning film Buried, Enterré in French, her desire was to lift the lid on silent abuse that happens in society. 

Buried reflects the journey of four childhood friends who come together as they approach their forties in a reunion that’s supposed to mark a fresh start in their lives. They gather in an open field and each of them has an item they ought to bury. 

The lead character Ndewa digs the ground beside each one of them where their objects will be buried and they take turns talking about it before they finally let go. Ndewa's turn stirs bitter emotions.
Ndewa, the lead character in the film Buried
The key he wants to bury reminds them all of the orphanage they grew up in and the power Daddy, the priesthood and director of the orphanage gained over them and used to take advantage of them. 

The film explores the deep-seated childhood pain of the four characters and puts a spotlight on caregivers. To find out more about Buried, here’s the director Francoise Ellong.

Where did the idea of Buried come from?

Cover image of the film
The idea of Buried came from a reportage I saw on TV in which victims of sexual abuse were talking to the camera which essentially was them talking to us about a painful part of their life.

I was touched by their testimony because I realized that they needed courage to share their stories and someone to listen. The approach used in this reportage made it difficult for the viewer to ignore them. This sparked my desire to do something similar.  
In many countries when sexual abuse happens, the first thing people do is question the authenticity of your experience because we don't want to talk about these issues. As such, this film gives these characters the opportunity to talk and raise awareness of these situations.

The film is shot in an open, deserted field. What is the significance of this setting?

A scene in the film Buried
I’m a huge fan of 12 Angry Men because they managed to tell a story without flashbacks but with lots of suspense and we still watched it. I didn’t want to have flashbacks or buildings around to enable my characters to feel lost and figure out how to deal with that.

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The open field represents the emptiness the characters feel inside. At the same time, it represents the limitless opportunity they have to find a space and use it to reconstruct themselves. 

When you are in an empty space, you need to build something new and that’s what they need to do so that when they leave that place, things will not be the same again. 

Why film in one location?

I want to draw attention to the importance of creating a strong and interesting story because that is what movies are all about. When you are in one location, you have no choice but to create an interesting film as it forces you to be creative in how you work with the set.  
For example, in the beginning, we have four characters on set and as the movie progresses, I split them and the mise-en-scene (the set) becomes a character in itself. You have to know how to integrate it into the story which is why pulling this off needs great imagination. 

Additionally, I wanted my characters, like in the reportage, to face the camera in a way the viewer interacts with them and has to sit and listen. 

How did you go about selecting the cast?

A scene in the film Buried
The lead character Ndewa is an English-speaking actor but in the film, he’s speaking in French. I want to show that Cameroonians are one people regardless of their Francophone or Anglophone identity.

Ndewa is an actor I admire. He has a strong voice and personality. I needed someone who can hide things visually and is very quiet, observant, intelligent and difficult to read at once such that you need to dig deeper to know him.

I needed two females - one who is feminine and another one who has strong masculine energy - which is why one is in a dress and another in a trouser.

I also wanted to represent all religions and not make it seem like we are targeting one religion or denomination. The film is about people and is a call to everyone including churches to look keenly at those who are given the responsibility to care for our children. 

What was the most challenging thing about making this film?

Finances. I made this film on my own. I had no money because I was coming out of a bad experience with another movie and producer and just like my characters, I had to dig deep inside and move on.  

Another is that this movie was therapeutic for me. I am a victim of abuse and my family didn’t know it. Even though I wasn’t involved in the subject, my lead actor gave me the courage to share that when he revealed at a conference that he too was a victim and after we screened the movie, a lot of people came forward with their own stories.

What does it mean to be the opening film at the International Images Film Festival for Women?

Wow! It’s incredible because they receive so many films and as a programmer, I know what it takes to open the festival. You set the mood of the event and it’s a great honour, particularly for a festival that’s about women and for women.

I will be sweating a bit because as an opener many people will be there, and there’s going to be a lot of feedback which I embrace. Also, I am happy that the cast, who did a stellar job, is going to be discovered. 

Although there isn’t much imagery of Cameroon in the film, people will still hear about the country because that's where the film comes from. 

As a female filmmaker, what do you make of women’s focused fest?

I have two types of feelings. The first one is that it's great to show how women tell stories. It is important for education and gives them space because it’s hard for them to get opportunities. 

However, it raises some questions. When we create festivals entirely dedicated to women, are we not putting ourselves in boxes? Am really asking myself whether it is the solution to really get our place in the industry. 

You are a screenwriter and director. What’s it like doing both?

Well, when you write and direct, it’s really hard to step back and look at the film from a distance. Most of the time I try not to do both at the same time. Whenever I do, I send a lot of screenplays for people to read and give feedback to make sure I do the story correctly. Otherwise, you kind of drown in your own story.

What message do you have for viewers of your film?

Be careful about what’s happening around you with our kids.  A lot is happening to them and we need to listen to them. They see a lot more than we think they do so watch out.