Spectrum Culture staff would like to ask something of any European filmmakers who might plan to make a documentary about musicians from another culture; please, leave yourself out of the story. Director Gio Arlotta’s profile of ‘70s Zambian rock group Witch, We Intend to Cause Havoc, features terrific footage of the group’s surviving member Emmanuel Chanda and wonderful vintage clips of other Zambian musicians. Although the filmmakers eventually find a better balance, early on, the havoc comes not from the band but from the director getting in the way.

The director admits early in his narration that he didn’t even know where Zambia was when he began the project. But that’s not the biggest problem. Arlotta at first frames the movie as a European quest for elusive African musicians; he even has the nerve to go on about the cycle of colonialism, as if his condescension isn’t perpetuating the same kind of exploitation. And it’s not just his quest; it’s that of his musician friends, including Jacco Gardner, who were invited to come along for the journey to Zambia. Gardner composed the film’s score―because what does a documentary about Zamrock need but some brooding electronic Euro-score? One can appreciate the European musicians’ love for Zamrock, but did we really need to watch them eat pork and beans and talk about how much they love Zamrock? Seriously?!

Such tactics can be partly written off as dramatic buildup; when we finally meet Chanda―whose stage name was Jagari, after Mick Jagger—he’s left the music world behind for two main concerns: the hard manual labor of the amethyst mines where he makes a living, and his Christian faith. Eventually, Arlotta lets Chanda speak with love and awe of his belief in a higher power. But not before Arlotta gets in the way again.

In one interview, Chanda’s wife Grace Mporokoso Chanda, a pastor at their local church, tells the filmmakers how she fell for Jagari and had dreams of a life of music―“but God’s plans are not our plans.” That line cuts to the Chanda family going to church, where the congregation sings and dances in fervent celebration of their faith. You would think this would be a wonderful scene; but for some reason, Arlotta fades out the inspirational music and inserts, at length, Gardner’s brooding score. The ominous, patronizing message seems to be: look at these poor deluded people. It’s infuriating. Even if Arlotta and his crew had their doubts about Zambian Christianity, wouldn’t a director serious about observing their subject follow where his subjects took him?

It would have been fascinating to trace the Zambian journey from rock to church. In fact, there are several possible alternate films in plain sight. In another sequence, the filmmakers meet an archivist who opens up the door to a long-stagnant storage room where film reels had been collecting dust for 17 years, abandoned because they had lost the key. Arlotta sought out the archive looking for film footage of Witch, but there’s a whole other film, even a series of films, to be made from that one room.

Fortunately, Arlotta steps back by the end of the film, bringing Chanda to Europe with a new backing band for a triumphant Witch tour. There’s plenty of footage here of Chanda and other Zamrock musicians and fans reminiscing about the wonderful times they had. It’s heartwarming to see Chanda and his new bandmates get a warm welcome on tour. Anybody curious about African rock needs to see We Intend to Cause Havoc. But it would be so much better without the directorial intrusions.

Summary
Although the filmmakers eventually find a better balance, early on, the havoc comes not from the band, but from the director getting in the way.
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