A road movie about a motley group of youngsters travelling 3,000 miles to reach the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, debutant director Debs Gardner-Paterson’s film has already been dubbed this year’s Slumdog Millionaire.
Like its predecessor, Africa United is a feelgood fable that doesn’t shirk from showing the darker side of life. The three children who start the journey come from the country with one of the continent’s darkest recent histories: Rwanda. They are Fabrice, a spoilt football prodigy (Roger Nsengiyumva); street kid and Aids orphan Dudu, his irrepressible, self-proclaimed ‘manager’ (Eriya Ndayambaje); and Dudu’s pious little sister, Beatrice (Sanyu Joanita Kintu).
Along the way, the trio pick up teenage sex worker Celeste (Sherrie Silver) and traumatised former child soldier Foreman George (Yves Dusenge), and together overcome all manner of hazards and obstacles to reach their destination. The journey’s tough, but to sustain the travellers’ spirits en route, Dudu spins a fabulous tale (charmingly animated in quirky stop-motion) out of their adventures.
Africa United clearly displays its creators’ determination to show cinema audiences a different side of Africa. The man who came up with the original idea for the film is Rwandan journalist and filmmaker Eric Kabera, the founder of Hillywood, a travelling film festival that brings movies to the people of Rwanda.
The project then reached British director Debs Gardner-Paterson, maker of the short film about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, We Are All Rwandans, and a woman with family ties to the country. She then worked with Welsh novelist Rhidian Brook (a regular on the Today programme’s Thought for the Day, incidentally), who had spent a year travelling with his family through countries affected by Aids – a trip that produced the book More Than Eyes Can See: A Nine Month Journey into the Aids Pandemic.
The filmmakers’ backgrounds and experiences mean that the film’s most picaresque and fairytale-like elements are still grounded in reality. Admittedly, Africa United doesn’t have Slumdog’s visual bravura (to tell the truth, parts of it are a bit gauche), but the continent’s vibrancy and energy come across vividly, and it’ll be a hard heart that isn’t touched and uplifted before Dudu and his companions reach their destination.
On general release from 22nd October.