Touring Africa via the movies


To me, travel consists of three almost equally delightful phases:

  • Phase One – anticipation and preparation
  • Phase Two – the trip itself
  • Phase Three – recollection – reliving the experiences through photos and the memories imbedded in my brain.

Right now I am deeply into Phase One, learning as much as I can about the countries we will be visiting, and how best to prepare for the trip itself.

OAT, like Road Scholar, sends an excellent package of preliminary materials.  These include what you need to know about the climate, what to pack, visa requirements,  necessary immunizations, currencies used in each country, plus a list of books and movies for us Phase One enthusiasts.

Not surprisingly, the movie list included Born Free, Out of Africa, Gorillas in the Mist, the African Queen, Hotel Rwanda, many of which I had already seen.  One title I had never encountered was The First Grader, produced by National Geographic Entertainment.  It tells the story of Maruge, a former Mau Mau warrior who went to school for the first time at the age of 84.  Even though we aren’t going to Kenya, it still is about Africa, and the movie intrigued me, so I borrowed the DVD from the local library.

first grader

What a wonderful movie!  It is actually two stories.  The first tells of Maruge’s determination to take advantage of Kenya’s offer of free education for all, and the obstacles he had to surmount to achieve his goal.   The second, through flashbacks, chronicles the Mau Mau uprising in the early 1950’s and the British brutality during that period of colonialism.

I’m so glad I got the DVD because it includes “bonus features”: a short documentary starring the real Maruge and Teacher Jane, interviews with the director, and a peek behind the scenes while the movie was being made. I enjoyed these bonus features as much as the movie, and after watching them, I appreciated the movie even more, because as indicated by the interviews and documentary, the movie didn’t embellish or invent — it  just told Maruge’s  story.

The movie was shot on location in Kenya, using an actual village school.  Only one main character, Teacher Jane, is British.  The rest are Kenyans–some are actors, but the children are all the students at that school, and the “movie” villagers are actual villagers.  The kids are truly amazing!  They had never seen TV or movies before, so they were just going about their normal activities, doing what the “teacher” (the director) told them to do.  One sweet little girl was instructed to go over to Maruge to ask him if he was okay.  When he responded, she said “when I grow up, I am going to be a doctor so I can make you feel better”.   The director wisely kept this unscripted exchange, but because they spoke in their native language, he added English subtitles.  Uplifting?  Definitely.

How I could have possibly missed the 2010 movie Invictus is beyond me. It was nominated for multiple awards, was directed by Clint Eastwood and starred Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.  But I did.  Again, my local library came to the rescue.  This was another thoroughly enjoyable movie and for the other 10 people on the planet that also missed it–here’s what it’s about: Nelson Mandela recognizes the healing power of rugby.  The Springboks, South Africa’s team, represented apartheid to the black majority and when Mandela came to power they argued that the name and the team colors should be changed.  Mandela not only persuaded his countrymen to retain both, but he also actively supported the team in the 1995 world cup competition.  This is another uplifting movie about the triumph of the human spirit, and the healing nature of forgiveness.

Movies that didn’t make the list, and at least in MY opinion should have are the two The Gods Must Be Crazy movies.  Filmed in Botswana and South Africa, they tell the story of Bushmen encountering the oddities of the modern world.  Sweet, funny and thoroughly entertaining, it is also available on HBO.

crazy

As you may have suspected, I have a weakness for uplifting, feel good movies!

One thought on “Touring Africa via the movies

  1. I will be looking forward to your posts after your trip… going to Africa is truly a great experience. We were there in 2011 with friends who hunt big game, so we had a different tour from the norm, but did do Capetown and the southern coast of SA. Your camera is going to be red hot!! Debby Adams

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