The Welsh-Zambian director’s debut feature is premiering at Cannes: an everyday story of choosing between life in a travelling witch camp or being transformed into a goat

At the heart of I Am Not a Witch, a Zambian-set highlight of this year’s Cannes Festival, is an eminently relatable dilemma: should you remain living as witch in a travelling camp for tourists? Or liberate yourself, and thus risk being magically transformed into a goat as punishment? Who hasn’t wrestled with that one at some point or another? “That’s a choice I feel like I, as a woman, make all the time,” says Rungano Nyoni, the film’s Zambian-born, Cardiff-raised director. She laughs. “Shall I become a goat? Or shall I become a woman and live with all the injustices and difficulties that come with it?”

In Nyoni’s conversation, as in the society she depicts on film, metaphor and literal truth can sometimes become entwined. It is one of the qualities that makes her debut feature, a satire about a nine-year-old girl who is accused of witchcraft, so beguiling. The selection of I Am Not a Witch for the festival’s directors fortnight is a particular achievement for a first-time feature director, since this section is a breeding ground for future auteurs. It is the afternoon before she is due to fly out to France, though, and Nyoni says she is still struggling to relax into her success: “I’m more nervous than anything … it’s waiting to see it in front of an audience. That either reassures you or makes you even more nervous, so I think that’s when I’ll know.”

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