About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

26 February 2011

Movie: Jane's Journey

The movie, Gorillas in the Mist, is famous for retelling the story of Dian Fossey, for her study of Gorillas; and her subsequent activism to save Gorillas being poached to extinction. Jane Goodall is a fellow primatologist, famous for her work with Chimpanzees (who admits to being mistaken as the lady from Gorillas in the Mist, a mistake which I must admit I also made initially). But unlike Dian Fossey, her activism has extended beyond the primates, to general protection of the environment coupled with social activism; from refugees, to ecoturism activities and beyond.

The documentary, Jane' Journey, traces her life from a very young age, to her ground breaking study of chimpanzees to her current globe trotting, and activities with regards to her two foundations - The Jane Goodall Instituteand Roots and Shoots. her work with Roots and Shoots is particularly impressive, especially as the movement was co-founded with a number of teenagers in Tanzania who were inspired by her talks in their school.

For me, the highlights of the documentary is certainly the first part; where there is a lot of footage from her early time in the Gombe Reserve and the chimpanzees. The latter parts of the documentary are filled with the obligatory repetitive quotations from admirers "on being a beautiful soul" etc. most of which I do not think really need any enforcement.

Jane's journey is partly an autobiographical documentary, partly a documentary on the perils of climate change. However, unlike Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, it does not focus on statistics, shock and awe - but rather engages directly with the different factors - people need land to survive, the needs of progress, the challenges of economics, aided by her own observations, footage and documentation. It comes across more grounded and realistic - that climate change will require not only a change in human behaviour of the developed world but also needs to address the economic needs of the developing world. That is perhaps the most important message in the movie.

20 February 2011


Africa has a rich tradition of oral story telling, but somehow this tradition does not seem to have really translated to movies or other contemporary entertainment forms. Sunjata, is one such story that features the brilliant mix of magic, prophesy, feuding kings and off course, the customary good vs evil.

Sunjata, also spelt Sundiata, was the founding king of the great Mali Empire, probably most well known for Mansa Musa. Sunjata's story is the story of legends - born to the king of the Manding, who married a hunchback woman on the words of a prophesy. He was born, effectively crippled, who taught himself to walk, and then became a great warrior. He then united the various Mali kingdoms, starting by defeating the king of the northern kingdom of Sosso, who had invaded Manding after the death of Sunjata's father.

I learnt the tale of Sunjata, through a play at the Market Theatre. Directed by James Ngcobo, the play focuses more on the birth of Sunjata, instead of his life on the two contrasting kings - Maghan Kon Fatta or Maghan the Handsome (King of the Manding) and Soumaoro Kanté (King of the Sosso); who receive two contrasting parts of the same prophesy. Maghan receives the prophesy of how he can get a son to continue his reign, by marrying an ugly hunchbacked woman; while Kanté gets the prophesy of how his cruel reign will be ended by a young warrior, who is just a boy.

The play starts of in a rather annoying fashion, but as the main story starts, the acting and the story is simply superb. In a genius move of role reversal, all the main male parts are played by women while the main female parts are played by men (although each of the actors have a number of different roles).

The costumes and the sets are minimal; but they are not needed - this is the telling of a legend, in an oral tradition brought to modernity - the acting is stunning, the story crafting is superb - all that was missing, was sitting around a log fire under the African sky ...

Movie: Black Swan

Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is one of the most famous and popular ballets; and certainly has some of the most memorable (classical) musical pieces that I have heard. The story centres around a princess who is turned into a (white) swan by an evil princess and then needs to find true love to be restored. It is a tragic story; as the princess is robbed of her true love by the evil sorcerer's daughter (the black swan) - and unlike most fairy tales, there is no happily ever after.

The movie focuses on Nina, played brilliantly by Natalie Portman, who is a technically brilliant dancer (and thus can play the White Swan with perfection). However, she lives a sheltered life with a very protective mother (who is a former ballet dancer, who had to give up her dreams when she fell pregnant with Nina, seemingly unplanned); and as such does not, initially have what it takes to become the sensuous, care free, black swan.

Nina's transition is the subject of the movie, and is part horror, part thriller - focusing on Nina's (and to a lesser extent, her mother's) rather unstable mental state. It is perhaps a dedication to what it takes to be single minded in the pursuit of an artistic ideal (which in some respects would also apply to other professions, where repeated practice is a requirement for any perfection); and the movie is part gore, part scary and at the same time, supported by some incredible acting. It is not a straight forward tale - and stylistically is more like a David Lynch movie - which in some respects suit it; and in others makes it even more convoluted.