Target Audience

Youth and adults

Key Issues

Cultural practices

Gender and sexuality



Film Outline

Dancing on the Edge is set in rural Mozambique, where traditional gender roles and poverty influence the fight to contain the spread of AIDS. Antonietta is HIV-positive and works as an AIDS counsellor in the city. But she takes her one healthy daughter to a remote village for initiation into sexuality. After a week of rituals and lessons on how to please a man, the daughter will become a woman and consequently be put at risk to contract HIV. Antonietta struggles with the contradictions of maintaining traditional customs while adapting to the reality of the modern world.

Questions For Discussion

  • What is this film about?
  • Antonietta decides to have children even though she knows she is HIV positive. How do you feel about this?
  • Why do you think Antonietta doesn’t talk about her status to her children?
  • What do you think about Antonietta’s decision to take her daughter and her friend’s daughter away for initiation?
  • Do you think that initiation rites can be a cause of AIDS?
  • Could initiation schools teach about HIV/AIDS?
  • What cultural practices could potentially lead to the transmission of HIV?
  • How is HIV transmitted?


Dancing on the Edge portrays the tough world of rural Mozambique, where gender roles and poverty influence the fight to contain the spread of AIDS. It follows a young mother’s struggle as she battles with the contradictions of maintaining traditional values of womanhood while adapting to the reality of the modern world now being devastated by AIDS.

A household of women live in the Northern Mozambican city of Quelimane, where the father is away all but 4 days a month, working on a prawn trawler off the coast. The mother, Antonietta, volunteers as an AIDS activist, counselling others on HIV. She and her husband are both HIV-positive, yet they continued to have three children following their diagnosis. Now, the entire family is HIV-positive, except for their first born, Matilda.

Antonietta takes her healthy daughter on a two-day journey to a remote countryside village for an initiation rite, where Matilda will be taught the secret art of sexuality.  At the end of this week of ritual, practice, and moral lessons on how to please a man, the daughter will become a woman in the eyes of society and at the same time be put at risk like her mother to become HIV-positive.  The mother is confronted by the fact that while there are benefits to what she is teaching her daughter, it is also a death sentence. Here is a story of a modern African woman who struggles in herself between the knowledge of a modern disease and the traditional rules of female behavior.

This narrative documentary follows two parallel journeys, a young girl moving towards life as an adult, and a young woman moving towards her premature death. The experiences during these journeys are viewed from the mother and child’s two different perspectives.

The culture of silence and denial is profound in Mozambique. Throughout Antonietta’s journey she recognizes, as an insider still learning about AIDS, that she can help, inform and influence others.

Dancing on the Edge is a provocative film which asks how people can be educated about condom use without challenging the deep-seated beliefs and traditional values of the vast majority of people in Southern Africa. It asks whether a people already used to death and hardship, and who have had very little education, can grapple with the complexities of changing their behaviour to prevent a new disease as complex as HIV/AIDS.

Director’s biography:

Since taking up residence in Mozambique in 1994, Karen Boswall has produced many radio features for the BBC World Service and in 1999 got back into TV documentary directing with Living Battles (52 mins, 1998) and From the Ashes (26 mins, 1999). This film is her first for her own production company, Catembe Productions, which produces educational and children’s programmes. Before coming to Mozambique, Karen had her own production company in Britain and has worked all over the world as a sound recordist, producer and director.

Director’s Comments:

Briefly describe what your film is essentially about?

This film is set in one of the poorest parts of Southern Africa, Zambezia, in Northern Mozambique, and is about how girls there are educated as to how to behave as women.

It brings out the contradictions between traditional and modern sexual education in a province with the highest incidence of AIDS in Mozambique. It does so by seeing the real conflict that these contradictions represent in the life of one Zambezian woman, Antonietta. She is HIV-positive, as is her husband and her two youngest children. The two elder daughters are not. The film asks if she can help them stay that way. In the film she makes a physical and emotional journey which pulls the audience through the maze of contradictions that African women are faced with on a daily basis.

What was your experience in the making of your film?

The level of poverty in the village we were shooting affected not only the way I found myself questioning the premise of the film, but it also affected every aspect of the planning and organization of the shoot. In terms of the film, I had assumed that I could talk to people about sex and death, and to Antonietta in particular about the burden of knowing that she and most of the rest of her family were essentially going to die before their time. After a while, I realized this was my preoccupation, and something Antonietta rarely allowed herself to consider, and even then, more for my sake than for hers. This and other profound differences of point of view reminded me that I had to be constantly vigilant that I did not impose my values on those who I was there to portray.

How would you describe the value of the message embodied in your film, to potential audiences?

It is not easy to make a film with such a broad base for a potential audience. What is appropriate for one viewer in France is not necessarily as relevant for the other in Malawi, and vice versa, but I would hope the film enlivens the debate as to how men and women can communicate more openly in their social and sexual relationships wherever they are in the world and how they take on board the reality of their responsibilities to one another in relation to the spread of AIDS.

How would you describe your film in the context of HIV/AIDS?

I believe that unless the relationship between men and women in African culture is addressed, this part of the continent, in particular the poorest parts, will continue to be a fertile breeding ground for the AIDS virus. Through her strength of character I hope Antonietta will serve as a role model to many women, encouraging them to take a certain amount of control over their own and their children’s lives. She is more able to assert her needs than her mother is, and her daughters may take the influences of their mother and other women they come across in their urban life, to negotiate their own future with yet more determination. That is the positive message that the film can give.


Production Company

Catembe Productions


Karen Boswall


Karen Boswall


Giulio Biccari


Jorge Baptista


Waldir Xavier


Celso Paco

Professional Support

Anna Glogowski