Thursday, June 16, 2011

Africa United - Movie Review


Africa United was the first film I got to see at the SouthSide Film Festival. While it is on one level a fun kid's movie about friendship and football (that's soccer to you Americans), it is also an cross section of African culture and demographics, at least as we know it. Having been a completely African made film (shot in Burundi, directed by a Rwandan, starring children from various countries), I trust that this is not simply America's perception of Africa put on film.

The film opens with the main character, 13 year old Dudu, explaining how to make a football in Africa. First you take a condom, any kind will do. He gets his from the UN. Blow up the condom and tie it off. Surround it with plastic bags to add weight and durability. Finally, wrap it with string. The lesson evolves into a speech on the necessity of condoms. All of the good presidents use them. Maybe if Dudu's parents had, maybe they would still be alive. These first few moments set the tone of the movie. Part documentary, part children's movie - even when you are laughing you never forget the devastation of disease and poverty.

Dudu is our guide and narrator in the movie. He is the 'manager' of Fabrice, his best friend and resident rich boy. Fabrice's mother wants him to be a doctor when all he wants to do is play football. Dudu's sister, Beatrice, who lives with him in a shack, wants nothing more than to be a doctor. The three children live in Rwanda, and this is the summer of 2010. The World Cup is only a month away and no one is thinking about anything else. A scout notices Fabrice's "silky skills" (Dudu's term for his footwork) and invites him to try out for the youth team to open the ceremonies.

The result is a 3,000 mile trek from Rwanda to South Africa. Dudu, Fabrice and Beatrice meet up with Foreman George, a former child soldier, and Celeste, a (possibly) former child sex worker. In addition to disease and poverty, war is never far out of our minds. Celeste is of royal blood, but that means nothing when the monarchy is deposed. The children's quest involves poorly marked buses, big cats, mango crates, mercenaries, HIV testing, elaborate stories told by Dudu (and accompanied by amazing puppetry) and border crossings.

The film is at times hilarious - Dudu's use of the English language is delightful and possibly an improvement on the way we speak it; "The world is our ostrich", and "Keep the prize in your eyes" are two of my favorite phrases of his. It is also shocking and sad - one of the main characters was involved in a massacre, another is not HIV free. In the end we are left with hope for them all, but also the knowledge that that hope may be futile.

I loved this movie, and I hope to see it at least on DVD in the US soon, if not in a limited theatrical release. I must also make note of the fact that the director, Debs Gardner-Paterson, is a woman. This is a rarity that should be acknowledged. I hope to see more from her in the future.

Normally I do not include trailers in my reviews because I assume everyone has seen them already. As that is likely not the case for these films, I will include all the trailers I can.

Impossible is nothing.

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