Ouaga Girls

A group of young women training to be car mechanics are at the centre of Theresa Traore Dahlberg’s OUAGA GIRLS, a documentary that uses unique narrative methods to create its coming-of-age tale.

Dahlberg’s debut feature is set in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. We see the young women go to school in a country with an unemployment rate of 51% amongst 15-29 year olds – a fact lingering in the background while the women sand down and hammer at cars. These women, who are the life of this documentary, have a bold determination to succeed, no matter the circumstances surrounding them.

Patriarchal attitudes are highlighted at various stages in the documentary – the women are aware of their unique position in the trade, constantly being told how unusual it is to be car mechanics. The film in fact succeeds in demonstrating how, in actuality, there is nothing unusual about it. The women are not portrayed patronisingly; they are merely shown to be doing what they set out to do, with an unperturbed attitude to the world around them. “There is no job that a woman cannot do,” one casually informs the men jibing at her.

The narrative techniques used in OUAGA GIRLS seem atypical of a documentary of this nature. Radio bulletins and news reports are used to inform audiences of Burkina Faso’s political and social climate. Instead of the girls having interviews with the filmmakers, we are invited to be part of their sessions with the school’s psychologist. This is where we find out about the livelihoods shaping attitudes to their work; many of them have children depending on them, absent family members, or dismissive husbands.

OUAGA GIRLS, however, is by no means a pity-piece. It is a candid and assured telling of a group of women working towards a stable future. What’s more, part of the film’s appeal is in seeing the joy they feel around each other, joking around in class or telling stories. Dahlberg’s debut is one of strength, meaning and sisterhood.

See OUAGA GIRLS at the Cambridge Film Festival on 29th October at 18.45.