The world on her Head

It is the metaphorical lifetime journey of an African woman always carrying a basin from childhood in the morning to ages in the dark hours. "The World on Her Head" is a sentimental story of resilience when facing adversity...It is a tribute to all African Women and to all women that sacrifice so much with little recognition. Thank you!

  • Patrick Mandengue
  • Patrick Mandengue
  • Patrick MANDENGUE
  • Project Type:
    Animation, Short
  • Runtime:
    14 minutes 32 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    May 16, 2022
  • Production Budget:
    25,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Film Color:
    Black & White and Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Patrick Mandengue

Cameroonian animation writer and director living in Ghana, I am in my 40s and very interested by African storytelling not just African stories.

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Director Statement

The World on her Head – Director’s Notes
This is a social issue film and a tribute to African women whose stories, sacrifices and overall lives are very often taken for granted in our society or just simply ignored. This is very personal to me because of all the women in my life: my mother who gave birth to me, my grandmother who raised me, my twin sister who has been like the other face of the mirror, and more recently my wife and my two lovely daughters. I am invaded by women, and I see firsthand the difference in the education they get and the treatment they endure in our patriarchal culture. What intrigues me the most is the more fundamentally tragic question at the heart of their existence: what compels them to always carry the family responsibilities from their tender age to their death despite little to no recognition, day after day, generation after generation? What meaning do they find in this existence of submissive obedience?
This film can also be seen as an observational mini documentary about African women striving for survival and their devotion towards their family. The canvas of the film is very small as its entire universe is limited to the journey of the main woman character from her “sunrise” infancy to her “sunset” old age and the travails and tribulations of her life along the way. There are major events like her wedding followed by the traditional ceremony or the losses of her husband and sons that bring enough conflicts, emotional distress, and drama to the film.
For me, it was important to make complex elements of her life as simple as possible. At the same time, I wanted the film to be like a treasure map, with each scene like a painting with meticulous interaction between the characters and the settings. For example, in one scene her mother summons her to go to school while in the following scene, her father summons her to leave school and go do her chores. This is a strong reference to the difficulty that girls have to attain a proper education in Africa. That explains why girls and women emancipation is the watermark of the film. It is also the reason why when her daughter gets her college diploma at the end, she feels that she has fulfilled her mission and can return home to rest.
This 15-minutes film of voiceless storytelling ensures that the focus of the audience is on the main woman character’s journey, her basin, and her life. The film is titled The World on her head, a reference to the basins African women carry on their heads - a very common practice in Africa. This is a metaphor of the responsibilities that (African) Women should carry throughout their lives. It starts with the bucket of water to take a shower early in the morning for that little girl and it continues with the bench, the wood, the crops that our main character transports in a basin on her head.
She is always walking as she progresses in life but at the end, she returns home to rest next to another young girl who will wake up the next morning to walk like her and carry her own basin on her head all over again. This is the never-ending cycle of life for women.

This is a purely observational film – there are no interview, narration, or voice-over except a 30 seconds poem read at the end when the old lady decides to return to her village. The style of the film documentary is lyrical and poetic but very austere. The color is grey from the morning to the night with only the wedding scene in multicolor. The camera work is slow, takes are long, images are carefully juxtaposed. There is an effort to have as much continuity as possible with only 2 hard cut transitions to give the impression of a long take representing her long continuous life. The camera, though distant from the subject, is still able to establish a delicate intimacy.
Change is a strong motif in the film. We see it in the various changing landscapes, in the patterns of her day, and in the events in her life. The film creates a world of endless struggles for the woman, which is nonetheless fascinating, hypnotic in its slow rhythms. Some might even say that the situations she faces, are cruel and too much dramatic and they will be right since I want to bring out a certain level of discomfort to the viewers that I hope will turn to respect for the women in our lives. The film changes and evolves constantly. The time starts in the morning and ends in the night. The lady, the main character starts as an infant and ends as an old lady. There are numerous backgrounds: forest, savannah, steppe, desert, the village, and the city. These settings are an important part of the film as they give another important context to her life experiences.
In the film, time is slow, just as it is in life. Viewers are given the space to meditate on a different experience of time; to sense things, to perceive a whole visual and acoustic universe, to be able to make the leap from the natural world to a more poetic, abstract level. We want the viewers to see her journey and feel her experience.
As a filmmaker, I am attracted to stories that lend themselves to a philosophical exploration on the human condition. I am utterly intrigued by the contrarian and philosophical dilemma, we as human, face every day. The film, then, is a moral meditation on deeper questions: What is the role of (African) Women in our men-centered societies? Why do they always carry the basin on their heads? What is the objective of their lives? What is the purpose of their struggles?

The sketchy art style and the melancholic music take inspiration from two Oscar winning 2D animated short films: Father and Daughter directed by Michael Dudock de Wit (2000) and if anything happens, I love you directed by Will McCormack and Michael Govier (2020). The simplistic and minimalist graphical art was chosen purposely to serve as a reminder of the main character simple life but also for the viewers to keep their focus on her without any fancy distractions.
In the end, this story is meaningful not just because it tells us something about the women we live with, but because it tells us something about our own selves.
Patrick Mandengue