Films on Africa

Virunga

Documentary 2014 TV-14 100 minutes.  In the forested depths of eastern Congo lies Virunga National Park, one of the most bio-diverse places in the world and home to the last of the mountain gorillas, an endangered species numbering only 800. Here, an embattled team of park rangers that includes an ex-child soldier and a Belgian prince, risk their lives to protect this UNESCO World Heritage Site from armed rebels, poachers, and even corporations trying to wrest control of Congo’s rich natural resources. Filled with heroes and villains, at the heart is the dwindling habitat of the Virunga Park and the mountain gorillas caught between war and corporate interests.  Deeply moving and emotional, heartbreaking, and hopeful all at once. Seeing the rangers and caretakers dedicate their lives to saving this wonderful park and animals is truly inspirational.  These people put themselves in immense danger on a daily basis to protect the gorillas.   Whatever reasons the British company SOCO may have had for this oil exploration venture, the end result of their presence is undeniable, and horrific. I am convinced that they will be held in judgement if they continue feeding the unrest and disruption in the Congo and Virunga. SOCO, please cut your losses and help stabilize this region. You are wrong!  As the journalist in the film says, however, the biggest tragedy would be for people to learn what’s going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo and then to return to their lives and do nothing. Please insist that SOCO give up all oil exploration rights in perpetuity.  Please consider divesting all of the oil company stock in your portfolio. Please encourage lawmakers in the US to eliminate our reliance on petrol. Documentaries have the capacity to change minds and hearts! Let’s demand change together!  Thank you for bringing us this exceptional film and for raising awareness.  Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.  The best documentary I’ve seen in a very long time.  Please donate to Virunga National Park.

The Lost Diary of Dr. Livingstone

Documentary Secrets of the Dead series 2014 TV-PG 52m. Explorer David Livingstone reported a slaughter in Africa that horrified the public in the 1870s. But recent analysis of his field diary reveals more to the story of the massacre of an African village by  aggressively violent Arab slave traders, who forcibly killed and enslaved free people for centuries. Livingston did not bring an end to the slave trade in Africa. He merely changed European opinion on slavery into opposition to slavery. (The slave trade importation of slaves, as opposed to slavery itself, was banned in the U.S. by federal law in 1808, and the U.S. 13th amendment freeing the slaves in the U.S. was passed in 1865. This last Livingston expedition was in the 1870’s.) Africa never ended the slave trade, but subsequently sold slaves to elsewhere than to the U.S. and Britain. He helped the movement to abolish slave markets in Africa itself, but his explorations and discoveries helped to open up the country for a new kind of slavery, Colonialism.

Ebola Outbreak

Documentary Frontline 2014 TV-14 53m.Go inside an emergency field hospital in Sierra Leone, where medical professionals are combating the vast Ebola outbreak that has killed thousands.

Ebola: The Plague Fighters

Documentary Nova 1996 NR 54 minutes. In May 1995, one of the world’s most deadly plagues, an outbreak of the Ebola virus, terrorized a remote region of Zaire. This documentary takes you inside the quarantined “hot zone” of Kikwit and exposes the efforts to stop the biological time bomb. As doctors combat the highly lethal disease, epidemiologists complete a “chain of death” to trace its origins, and scientists fear an Ebola mutation even more virulent and difficult to contain.

Winnie Mandela
(Winnie)

Docudrama 2011 R 1hr 47m. South Africa’s Winnie Mandela, one of the most galvanizing public figures in modern history, comes to life in this absorbing biopic.

I Am Slave

Docudrama 2010 NR 1hr 20m. This drama inspired by true events follows a Sudanese girl who learns to fight her oppressors after being kidnapped and sold into slavery, first in Khartoum Sudan and then in London. Today, as absurd as it may intellectually seem, slavery still exists. Breaks my heart to know this is happening all over the world to thousands of people. How can anyone believe they truly own another human being? Simultaneously heartbreaking and triumphant. A powerful story of modern day slavery that will touch you to the core. It brings tears to my eyes knowing that people not only in African but in parts of Asia and in the Middle East are still forced and sold into slavery every day. Really shows how things must of been in USA not too long ago, when the laws where horrifically outrageous, beyond stupid, the racism mind-boggling. I am now going to look for ways I can get involved to help.  This is the best movie I have seen in a very long time. And I didn’t even have to read subtitles. Thank you to the producers, writers, and actors for making it. The postscripts after the movie estimate that there are 5,000 women living as slaves today in London, and that 20,000 people have been enslaved in Sudan. See Full Review

Slavery in the Chocolate Industry

Documentary 46 min. Although slavery is no longer legal there are still millions of people living in slavery today. One place and industry where slaves still exist is the cocoa industry. This documentary takes a deeper look at that industry with disturbing and challenging eyes.   Link to watch Slavery in the Chocolate Industry online free

Jane Goodall’s Wild Chimpanzees

Documentary 2002 NR 42 minutes. Showcased in beautiful IMAX format, this documentary takes viewers into the hearts, minds and world of chimpanzees as it profiles legendary scientist Dr. Jane Goodall’s work among the chimps at Gombe Park on Africa’s Lake Tanganyka. Dr. Goodall and other researchers give us an up-close look at the daily lives of the Gombe chimp families — Fifi and sons Freud and alpha male Frodo, along with Gremlin, Gaia and the endearing Galahad.

Gorillas in the Mist

Docudrama 1988 PG-13 128 minutes. This beautifully filmed drama is based on the true story of anthropologist Dian Fossey (Sigourney Weaver), a scientist who came to Africa to study the vanishing mountain gorillas, and later fought to protect them. Venturing into deepest Africa in the jungles of Zaire and Rwanda for the chance to study rare mountain gorillas, Fossey learns to communicate with her subjects, but the breakthrough turns her academic interest into an all-consuming obsession. She documented and filmed her observations for National Geographic. This docudrama is a somewhat fictionalized adaptation of Dian Fosseys “Gorillas in the Mist” novel based on her years of research in the African mountains during the 1960s and 70s. The real scene-stealers are the gorillas themselves. Using stunt double ‘gorillas’ for the close-up interactive scenes with Sigourney Weaver proves effective thus adding realism to a difficult subject to film. The film delves into the personality of Fosse and the difficulties encountered in living in the jungle. Although her work was to be admired, she is not painted as a living legend of the time, but rather as a complex determined woman whose unbending nature may have led to her murder. Eventually, her passion led her to risk her life to save the gorillas from poachers and animal traders. Beautifully photographed and a stellar performance by Sigourney Weaver make this a great film.

Becoming Human

Documentary Nova Series 2009 NR 3 episodes. Bringing our early ancestors to life through striking computer graphics based on new discoveries, this Nova special examines how early hominids lived and how they evolved through the ages to eventually become modern humans.

Eternal Enemies: Lions and Hyenas

Documentary National Geographic 2006 TV-PG 56m. Travel deep into the dark and mysterious animal world of Botswana where never-before-seen footage reveals the intensely brutal and often bloody conflict between lions and spotted hyenas. Filmed primarily at night, this nature documentary provides viewers a “hiding in the shadows” glimpse into the creatures’ ancient rivalry — a savage, almost gang-like feud between the powerful Southern Clan of hyenas and the Central Pride of stately lions.

Out of Africa

Docudrama 1985 PG 161 minutes. Hoping to forge a better life, Denmark native Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) enters into a marriage of convenience with a womanizing baron. But when the couple moves to Nairobi, Karen falls in love with a free-spirited hunter (Robert Redford) who can’t be tied down. Director Sydney Pollack’s lush period drama earned seven Academy Awards, including statues for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

The Gods Must Be Crazy

Dramedy 1980 PG. Three vignettes highlight the surreal in this cult comedy, including a tale about a Coke bottle that falls from the sky and becomes a one-of-a-kind object coveted by everyone in a small African village. The first 10 minutes or so of the film appears to be a documentary and I wanted to leave. I stayed and discovered an absolute gem of a film. It is quite humorous in many scenes and the beautiful photography of the Kalihari Desert encourages one to call a travel agency immediately. The main story concerns a bushman’s interaction with the “civilized” world and how he is introduced to it via his accidental encounter with a Coke bottle. There are several subplots; the romantic one is a little silly and the political one introduces tension and danger to the story. It important that the bushman was, and remained, the hero of the story. The best word I can come up with to describe this film is unique. It is a bizarre mix of romance, physical comedy, drama and even violence. I enjoyed it a lot. There are three distinct storylines and when the three converge, it is pure hilarity. This movie just did it for me…it made me laugh out loud! It also has some very touching moments, but it is slap-stick at its core. These quirky characters get under your skin and are just plain funny. The lead character is an actual bushman and never speaks a word of English but captures your heart and wins you over with his charm and his memorable facial expressions. He proves to be a natural actor. If you have a healthy sense of humor and can laugh at yourself once in a while, I think you’ll like this one.  In general, it’s an excellent film for everyone.

The Gods Must Be Crazy 2

Dramedy 1989 PG 98 mins. N!xau is back in this sequel to the 1980 cult hit, and this time, an even stranger turn of events — stranger than a Coke bottle — leads him to an unexpected run-in with the world beyond his African village. While hunting in the desert, N!xau discovers that his children have been abducted by elephant poachers and vows to find them. But he’s forced to save the day (again) when he meets transplanted New Yorkers and soldiers who’ve lost their way.

FILMS ON GENOCIDE IN AFRICA

Hotel Rwanda

Docudrama 2004 PG-13 122 minutes. Amid the holocaust of internecine tribal fighting in Rwanda that sees the savage butchering of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, one ordinary hotel manager musters the courage to save more than 1,000 helpless refugees.

The Devil Came on Horseback

Documentary 2007 NR 1hr 25m. In this unflinching documentary chronicling the genocide in Darfur, a former Marine captain is forever transformed by the atrocities he witnesses.

Attack on Darfur

Thriller 2009 R 1hr 38m. Three journalists reporting on Darfur wrestle with their obligation to the story and to the lives of the people with whom they are in daily contact.

FILMS ON ANIMALS FROM AFRICA

Koko  (2004)

Documentary Nature 2004 NR 60 minutes. In the 1970s, a gorilla named Koko taught scientists much more than they’d imagined about how animals, humans included, communicate. This documentary, part of the popular Nature series and narrated by Martin Sheen, examines how Koko interacts with the doctors who studied her, including lead researcher Penny Patterson, with whom she forged a strong bond. By letting viewers in, Koko flung the doors wide open to the world of communication. See Full Review

Koko: A Talking Gorilla  (1978)

Documentary 1978 NR 80 minutes. At the tender age of 3, a female gorilla named Koko was brought to Stanford University, where she learned to communicate through American Sign Language, astounding the world with her ability to “talk.” This fascinating documentary from acclaimed director Barbet Schroeder and cinematographer Nestor Almendros tracks Koko’s early years and shines a light on her controversial work with tutor Dr. Penny Patterson.

Project Nim

Documentary 2011 PG-13 93 minutes. Oscar-winning filmmaker James Marsh peers inside the landmark 1970s experiment for an unflinching look at Nim, the chimp whom scientists raised as human and taught sign language to prove that apes can communicate like humans.

Ape Genius

Documentary Nova 2008. An investigation concerning the great apes intellectual abilities which include bonbos, chimps, gorillas, and orangutans, plus a look at why the ape culture has yet to evolve. Includes an experiment comparing toddlers and chimpanzees, film of apes in their natural habitats and the surprising way they act, from the holding of a pool party to a mother grieving for her dead offspring.

SLAVES IN AMERICA FROM AFRICA

Africans in America

Documentary Series Four Episodes 1998 NR 2 discs. This documentary series recounts the history of slavery in America. The four episodes — “The Terrible Transformation,” “Revolution,” “Brotherly Love” and “Judgment Day” — span the years from 1450 to the end of the Civil War. The series explores the paradox at the heart of the American story: that a democracy declared all men equal but enslaved one group to provide prosperity to another.

12 Years a Slave

Docudrama 2013 R. The autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was abducted from New York state and sold into slavery in the mid-1800s, serves as the basis for this historical drama. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Northup, and Brad Pitt plays an abolitionist. The book by Solomon is excellent, better than the movie.

Twelve Years a Slave
Solomon Northup’s Odyssey
(Half-Slave, Half-Free)

Docudrama 1984 NR 117 minutes. Based on the autobiography Twelve Years a Slave, this gripping drama tells the true story of Solomon Northup (Avery Brooks), a black man living in Washington, D.C., in the mid-19th century. Northup, born a free man, works as a carpenter and musician. But one day in 1841, he’s kidnapped by a Louisiana slave owner and forced into slavery. Northup spends a dozen years enduring harrowing hardships, while his family desperately searches for him.

Roots

Drama 1977 NR 580 minutes. This legendary TV miniseries — an adaptation of author Alex Haley’s groundbreaking novel that details the history of his own family from slavery to emancipation — received five Emmy Awards, as well as a Golden Globe for Best Dramatic TV Series. With a dynamic ensemble cast, this rousing epic features LeVar Burton, in his acting debut, portraying Haley’s ancestor, Kunta Kinte, who was kidnapped from his African village and sold into slavery.

Slaves

Drama 1969 NR 1hr 45m. After being sold to a cruel plantation owner, a slave fights for his freedom and encourages his oppressed brothers and sisters to revolt.

Amistad

Docudrama 1997 R 155 minutes. An African-born slave leads a mutiny against his brutal captors, but because the ship is in American waters, a U.S. court must decide the slaves’ fates. In an eloquent courtroom speech, ex-president John Quincy Adams argues for the Africans’ freedom.

Slave Ship Mutiny

Documentary Secrets of the Dead 2010 TV-PG 53m. This inspiring documentary recounts a group of African slaves’ heroic struggle for freedom as they overtook their Dutch captors in a unified mutiny.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Drama 1927 NR 112 minutes. Depicting the realities of slavery while lamenting the passage of an idealized South, this 1927 movie adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famed novel was one of the most expensive films of the silent era. James B. Lowe delivers a sensitive performance as Uncle Tom, while black and white actors bring to life the roles of Eliza, Eva and George. George Siegmann is chilling as the villainous Simon Legree.

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