African And American Travel To Tanzania In Transformational Documentary
After finishing high school, Venance Ndibalema made the most of an opportunity to leaveTanzaniato study physics and philosophy at theUniversityofMiami. Now, he’s ready to visit his homeland for the first time in years, a trip likely to prove traumatic, given the changes both he and the country have undergone during the interim.
Accompanying him on the eventful return toDar es Salaamis Kristen Kenney, a fellowMiamialumnus who’s never been toAfrica. A child of privilege, she must brace herself for the culture shock involved in adjusting to modest accommodations sans most of the modern conveniences she’s always taken for granted.
The subsequent sojourn is the subject of Tanzania: A Journey Within, a documentary chronicling Venance and Kristen’s emotional and physical challenges long the way. Directed by Sylvia Caminer, the picture is worth watching for the spectacular visuals and anthropological insights alone, given the off-road trekker’s point of view it affords the audience of everything from Mount Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti Plains.
However, proving just as compelling is the badinage between Venance and Kristen, as well as their chats with everyone they encounter. He enjoys a reunion with his BFF William, and searches for a sibling he hasn’t seen in over a decade. Meanwhile, Kristen experiences a sense of exhilaration at exploring new places and at being so close to nature, at least until she becomes deathly ill during a bout with malaria.
Nevertheless, she has to admit that she’d grown up in the lap of luxury, so spoiled, in fact, that she never even had to cook her own food. By contrast, Venance reflects upon the harshness of formative years spent fatherless in abject poverty exacerbated by his HIV+ mother’s being shunned by her neighbors until the day she finally lost her battle with AIDS.
Lessons? “We learn through hardship,” Ven rhapsodizes, adding, “If there were no fathers on the planet, I would never have known I needed a father to be a man.” As for Kristen, she finds it hard to leaveAfrica, “because you get so close to the people so fast.” She also comes away appreciating that “they don’t care about status. They just care about you.”
“I was soulless before this trip,” the grateful debutante concedes. “This is the real world I was searching for.”Africafrom the perspectives of a “Native Son” returning to his roots and of a blue-eyed sister transformed by an unexpected catalyst for spiritual growth.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 103 minutes
Vanishing Pearls: The Oystermen Of Pointe A La Hache
Gulf Oil Spill Pits Black Fisherman Vs. BP In David Vs. Goliath Documentary
On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig owned and operated by British Petroleum (BP), exploded, spilling over 50 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico before it was finally capped weeks later. In June, President Obama announced that the company had set aside $20 billion in cash designated to help those deleteriously affected by the ecological disaster.
Kenneth Feinberg’s law firm, which had previously handled the distribution of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, was retained at a rate of $850,000/month to handle the BP one also. Although the TV commercials running in the company’s highly-saturated PR campaign would have you believe that it was contrite and committed to undoing any damage, truth be told, that carefully-cultivated corporate image bore little relation to how it was actually treating many of the victims seeking restitution.
Take, for example, Pointe a la Hache, an African-American enclave located inPlaquemines Parish,Louisiana. For generations, the men of that Gulf shore village of less than 300 had supported their families by plying their trade as oyster fishermen. However, the BP spill put the brothers out of business and by 2012 the tiny black community had effectively been turned into a ghost town.
Its little-known ordeal is the subject of Vanishing Pearls, a heartbreaking documentary directed by Nailah Jefferson. The film retraces the blight visited upon Pointe a la Hache by focusing primarily on the plight of a local leader named Byron Encalade.
Mr. Encalade was the owner of Encalade Fisheries, a family business which employed his brother, his nephew and five of his cousins. In the wake of the spill, he filed a claim and very patiently awaited a check from BP.
But when he finally received a letter stating, “Your file is denied,” his whole world was turned upside down. Now, a proud provider who had never in his life looked to the government for a handout suddenly found himself dependent on food stamps. His relatives also needed help from friends, charities and subsidies to survive, and had trouble understanding why no one cared about their predicament.
Meanwhile, Attorney Feinberg, ostensibly running interference for the profit-driven polluter, publicly stated, “I see no evidence of anything other than fair treatment by BP. I think they wanted to do the right thing, and they did.”
His conclusion was a far cry from that of embittered Byron who lamented, “They’ve destroyed us… The world must know what BP did to this community.” Sadly, the devastation visited upon Pointe a la Hache is most likely a microcosm of a scenario being played out again and again in working-class communities all along theGulfCoast.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 80 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening April 25, 2014
Brick Mansions (PG-13 for profanity, sexual menacing, gunplay, drug use and pervasive violence) Remake of the French action-thriller District B13, now set in a dystopian, walled-in Detroit, and starring the late Paul Walker as a detective determined to rid the city of a drug kingpin (RZA) in league with corrupt cops. With David Belle, Carlo Rota, Catalina Denis, Ayisha Issa and Gouchy Boy.
The Other Woman (PG-13 for profanity, sexual references and mature themes) Romantic comedy revolving around the wife (Leslie Mann) of a shameless womanizer (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who befriends his two mistresses (Cameron Diaz and Kate Upton) before hatching a plan with them to even the score. With Nicki Minaj, Don Johnson and Taylor Kinney.
The Quiet Ones (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, mature themes, smoking, and scenes of intense violence and terror) Supernatural thriller, set in the ’70s, about an Oxford University professor (Jared Harris) heading a team of student researchers which unwittingly unleashes demonic forces while experimenting on a woman (Olivia Cooke) possessed by a Poltergeist. Cast includes Sam Claflin, Erin Richards and Rory Fleck-Byrne.
Walking With The Enemy (Unrated) Fact-based World War II saga, set in Hungary during Nazi occupation, about a young Jewish man (Jonas Armstrong) who, with the help of his girlfriend (Hannah Tointon), masqueraded as an SS officer in order to find his family. With Ben Kingsley, Simon Dutton and William Hope.
Blue Ruin (R for profanity and graphic violence) Macabre thriller about a beach bum (Macon Blair) who returns to his hometown to carry out an act of vengeance only to botch the assassination attempt and end up having to defend his suddenly-imperiled family. With Devin Ratray, Amy Hargeaves and Eve Plumb.
For No Good Reason (R for profanity, drug content and sexual images) Reverential documentary about Ralph Steadman, the British cartoonist best known for his collaborations with the late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Featuring file footage plus appearances by Johnny Depp, Terry Gilliam and Jann Wenner.
From The Rough (PG for mature themes and mild epithets) Taraji P. Henson stars in this biopic about Catalana Starks, the African-American trailblazer who made history in the late ’90s as the first female head coach of an NCAA Division I men’s team when she assumed the reins of Tennessee A&M’s golf squad. With Letoya Luckett, Tom Felton and the late Michael Clarke Duncan.
Gambit (PG-13 for suggestive material, partial nudity and a rude gesture) Crime comedy about an art curator (Colin Firth) who conspires with a Texas rodeo queen (Cameron Diaz) to trick his abusive, filthy-rich boss (Alan Rickman) into buying a fake Monet. Cast includes Stanley Tucci, Cloris Leachman and Togo Igawa. (In English and Japanese with subtitles)
The German Doctor (PG-13 for mature themes and brief nudity) True tale, set inPatagonia in 1960, about an Argentinean family who had no idea it was living with Nazi fugitive Josef Mengele (Alex Brendemuhl), the wanted war criminal known as the Angel of Death. Co-starring Natalia Oreiro, Diego Peretti and Florencia Bado.
Jeune Et Jolie (Unrated) Coming-of-age drama about a 17-year-old virgin (Marine Vacth) who turns to prostitution after being deflowered by a German boy (Lucas Prisor) she meets while on vacation with her parents (Frederic Pierrot and Geraldine Pailhas) in the south of France. With Charlotte Rampling, Nathalie Richard and Akela Sari. (In French with subtitles)
Last Passenger (R for profanity) Suspense thriller about the struggle for survival by passengers on a hijacked London commuter train whose emergency brake doesn’t work. Starring Dougray Scott, Kara Tointon and Iddo Goldberg.
Locke (R for pervasive profanity) Distracted driving drama, set inEngland, about a construction foreman (Tom Hardy) whose life is irreversibly altered by a series of phone calls he receives while driving fromBirmingham toLondon. With Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott.
The Machine (R for violence and profanity) Sci-fi thriller about a couple of Artificial Intelligence researchers (Caity Lotz and Toby Stephens) who successfully implant a human brain in a robot only to have it turned into a weapon by the British military which had funded their experiment. Featuring Sam Hazeldine, Denis Lawson and Pooneh Hajimohammadi.