Students Staff

30 November 2015

Essex History professor’s film wins Public History Prize

Body Games

Professor Assunção with Professor Amanda Vickery

A film created as part of a major research project led by Professor Matthias Röhrig Assunção has won the Royal Historical Society’s prestigious Public History Prize in the film category.

The documentary Body Games - Capoeira and Ancestry follows Cobra Mansa, master of Capoeira Angola and founder of the International Capoeira Angola Foundation, who travels through Angola and Brazil in search of the historical roots of his art. The film explores deeper connections between slavery, identity and society.

“The movie documents combat games and it moves backwards and forwards between Brazil and Angola, trying to establish links between the movements, the games, the dances, the rhythms, the songs and the spirituality expressed in them” explained Professor Assunção.

The judges said: “This original and beautiful film is an exploration of history at many levels. It uses oral history, ethnomusicology, biography and dances passed on through generations to illuminate the relationships between Brazil and Central Africa. In the process it also examiners the ways in which people now think about and are connected with their ancestors. Here too is a form of contemporary history, which examines the nature of identity and the legacies of colonialism and slavery.”

The Public History Prize promotes the field of public history by recognising work that enhances public understanding of the place of the past in today’s social, political and cultural life.

Professor Assunção said: “My colleagues from the ‘Angolan Roots of Capoeira’ project team and I are delighted to win the Film category of the Public History Prize. We take it as recognition for the impact our research and the film has made, in particular among many capoeira practitioners around the world, and how it has stimulated debates about the African heritage of the Brazilian martial art capoeira. We also hope that this prize and other awards the film has received so far will result in positive outcomes for the Angolan communities where it was shot.”

Body Games, co-directed by Richard Pakleppa and capoeira mestre Cobra Mansa, was nominated for the award by Professor Edward Higgs, University of Essex, who described it as “an outstanding film”. The team also included research assistant Christine Dettmann, now professor at the Musikhochschule München, Professor Mariana Candido from the University of Kansas, interpreter Tchilulu Ntchongolola and Belinda Waterman, student administrator at the Department of History.

The documentary is part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project The Angolan Roots of Capoeira: Transatlantic Links of a Globalised Performing Art, which explored the transatlantic links between the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira and combat games in southern Angola.

Body Games - Capoeira and Ancestry from University of Essex on Vimeo.

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