“No tree can grow to heaven, unless its roots reach down to hell.”
Under the Hanging Tree is the International Feature submission for Namibia. Set in a majestic remote area, the film is about Christina, a young police detective who is of Herero heritage. Her mother has passed away and her son lives in the city, presumably with his father, so at the moment she’s living with her aunt. Her latest crime takes her far away from the city where a white man is found hanging from a tree.
Christina visits the dead man’s farm, where she meets Eva, his wife. The police detective discovers that Eva is descended from the original German settlers, who arrived in Namibia in the late 1800s. They’re part of the families who’re associated with some of the worst colonial atrocities. To add on top of that, Eva seems eerily calm for someone who just found out that her husband has been murdered.
The German colonial forces massacred around 100,000 Herero and Nama people between 1904 and 1908. This large-scale ethnic cleansing remains a highly contentious issue between Germany and Namibia today, where around 5% of the population consider themselves to be German Namibians. The remaining Herero people are still justifiably enraged about their loss of land, their loss of lives, their ancestors being hung from trees. They feel that nobody cares about them and that if they don’t do something now, no one will stand up for them.
Christina soon finds out that Eva has family links to Eugen Fischer, the notorious Nazi anthropologist who conducted inhumane experiments on prisoners of war during the genocide in Namibia. Fischer wanted to prevent the production of a mixed race by prohibiting mixed marriages. Eva has plans to continue his practices. Christina feels like she can’t make sense of the world anymore, and that she should accept life for what it is, for it’s beauty, for it’s ugliness, and to make peace before death.
A tree and a tree do not meet, but a person and a person do meet. For the Herero people, they will return the blood that was spilt on their own land, under a hanging tree.