Kilometer Zero is an intimate portrait of a little-known country, an even lesser known poet, and a journey of great aesthetic, moral, and physical distance. Poet-translator David Shook flies to Malabo, the capital of tiny West African nation Equatorial Guinea, to hunt down poet and Claretian priest Marcelo Ensema Nsang, whose work he has become obsessed with translating. Ensema Nsang was twice imprisoned and tortured under the brutal Macías regime, infamous for the Christmas Day 1975 execution of 150 political rivals to the tune of Mary Hopkins’ “Those Were the Days.”
Traveling with a skeleton crew of rogue filmmakers, poet-translator David Shook penetrates Equatorial Guinea’s media-hostile borders to find lost poet Marcelo Ensema Nsang, a Claretian priest who was tortured for his human rights stance under the oppressive regime of Francisco Macías Nguema.
Equatorial Guinea is a Spanish-speaking nation on Africa’s west coast. Under President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Africa’s longest serving head of state, it ranks among Freedom House’s annual “worst of the worst” list for political and civil rights, and Reporters Without Border’s ranks its president among its predators of press freedom. Obiang overthrew his uncle Macías, famous for his 1975 Christmas Day execution of 150 political rivals to the tune of Mary Hopkins’ “Those Were the Days,” in a 1979 coup.
In the 1990s, oil was discovered, and with the cooperation with many prominent world oil companies, Equatorial Guinea developed into the third-largest oil producer in Sub-Saharan Africa, producing 360,000 barrels per day in 2004. Though its GDP ranks 28th worldwide, almost the entirety of its wealth is held by a small elite lead by Obiang’s family and close friends, with over 70% of its citizens making less than $2 per day.
There is no freedom of speech, and journalists are routinely jailed. Photography of any kind is prohibited without permission, and permission is not granted.
Marcelo Ensema Nsang is an Equatorial Guinean poet and Claretian priest who was incarcerated and tortured under the oppressive regime of Francisco Macías Nguema.
David Shook is a young American poet and translator, who discovered Marcelo Ensema Nsang’s poetry in a 1970s anthology of Guinean literature.
Kilometer Zero is their journey: Shook’s search for Ensema Nsang, Ensema Nsang’s search for meaning as poet and priest in Equatorial Guinea, and a story of art, friendship, and humanity thriving under the most oppressive conditions.