Written & Directed by: #EnahJohnscot
Celebrating 14 years in 2020, Trinidadian-born Jenny Lee’s I Will Tell film festival welcomes “powerful, authentic stories that have been hidden, forgotten or ignored”. With writer-director Enah Johnscot’s powerful true-life drama, The Fisherman's Diary, Cameroon offered a top-drawer entry which proudly emerged as this year's Best Feature Drama.
12 year-old Ekah (Faith Fidel) yearns to attend school. When she learns of the story of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai, Ekah becomes even more determined. However, Ekha’s bitter fisherman father, Solomon (Kang Quintus), is vehemently opposed to his gifted daughter receiving school-based education. Backed only by her under-fire school teacher, Ekah finds herself with the challenge of defying her father or facing a bleak, unfulfilled future.
It’s somewhat misleading title (and release poster) aside, Johnscot brings to the screen a strikingly naturalistic realisation of African village life. Leading the remarkably authentic performances, Fidel and Quintus (also the film’s producer) dazzle in a memorable father-and-daughter pairing. One central sequence sees Solomon brutally punish Ekha after discovering her defiance, only to be shown, in the next scene, tenderly treating her wounds in the absence of her mother. Yet, Johnscot resists sentimentalising the character of Solomon. At a glance, the basic plot may seem conventional with its Cinderella story of a talented young girl, held back by her impoverished background, dreaming of greater fulfilment. However, The Fisherman’s Diary never becomes a fairytale. Solomon disowns his daughter and, horrifyingly, marries her off to a local scoundrel, with Ekah’s teacher powerless to help her.
Admittedly, Johnscot’s epilogue does wrap things up with a decidedly more upbeat resolution; a stirring testament to the power of human spirit over adversity. However, there’s an undeniably haunting reality behind it all; the innumerable young lives of past, present and future robbed of precious potential. It’s this controlling idea which makes The Fisherman’s Diary such an authentic and profound piece of film-making. Just as Ekah’s hero, Malala Yousafzai, has become an eternal empowering voice for female education, young Faith Fidel, in her award-winning performance, represents the lives of countless, oppressed young women to the point that it’s unbearable to contemplate. Yet, the film's message of hope and transcendence is never lost.
Rough around the edges, lengthy and hard-hitting, The Fisherman’s Diary may not be an easy watch but is certainly one to catch; a poignant reminder of what good film-making is for.