Directors: Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone

Language: English

Year: 2018

Location: Kenya

Awards: Nominated for Best Science/Nature Documentary and Best Narration at the Critics Choice Movie Awards in 2018 and for outstanding narration at the Primetime Emmy Awards in 2020.

The slaughter of Elephants particularly on the African continent is such a painful subject that in a way, I dreaded seeing the film but now I have no regrets. Filmed over four years in the expansive Tsavo East and Amboseli Ecosystem the film is the story of ‘Athena’ the Elephant Queen and her herd during the terrible drought of 2009 in Kenya. I am glad the film spared the audiences the scenes of carcasses of poached elephants in Kenya during the time of the filming.

The Tsavo East National Park is one of the largest parks in Kenya measuring about 13747 square kilometers. The park lives up to its reputation of being the ‘Theatre of the Wild’ and is lush, wild and harsh all at once. About two years ago, I visited the park and was amazed by the teaming wild life but especially by the presence of elephants almost everywhere, even right outside the campsite!  

The film took eight years to complete inclusive of almost four years of shooting in some harsh and unforgiving environments. The directors could have filmed in Amboseli or Samburu, where finding elephants would have been much easier, but only Tsavo offered the range of bullfrogs, dung beetles and other smaller characters to explain the ‘cycle of life’ in nature.

The directors cleverly used the waterhole as a focus point to show how insects, birds, amphibians, tortoises and other living creatures depend on each other, live off each other and survive because of each other rather than in spite of each other. It took the directors two years to identify the right group of elephants they wanted to film. After some nerve, shattering experiences the crew quite accidently bumped into ‘Athena’ the matriarch and her herd right outside their mobile kitchen! Mark Deeble in an interview with ‘Travel Africa’ said, ‘in the end it was she who found us.’ 

The directors and crew filmed through some very rough and rocky terrain and flew through dust storms, thunderclouds and torrential rain in order to capture the journey of the elephants and their surroundings. The crew spent time cramped in a specially designed steel box below ground enabling them to film the elephants at toenail height as they came to drink at the waterhole. The first 30 minutes of the film or so is spent exploring  ‘the Kingdom’ of the Elephants as the directors liked to call it to give the audience a feel of the habitat of these magnificent creatures; and the eco-system they lived in before the drought sets in.

Huge credit must go to Mark Deeble who wrote the screenplay which when narrated by American actor Chiwetel Ejio is a work of art. I loved the musical score like the helicopter sounds of the beetle scenes and was tickled by the humour around the adventures of ‘Steve’ the duck.

The film reaches its crescendo as we witness the epic migration of Athena the Queen and her herd to another place in search of water as their ‘Kingdom’ gradually dries up. The leadership of Athena, her caring and sensitivity to the needs of others and her determination to ensure the survival of the herd is breathtaking and all consuming. Tragedies and emotion mark their journey through a landscape that is bone dry and ravaged by sandstorms. The dried up vegetation made the journey even harder as the young ones needed to be nourished and protected from the harsh sun and heat.

When the herd finally does make it to their destination, the adults drink, the young frolic and the different herds commune in a majestic depiction of celebration at the end of a migration. Here we meet the age mate of Athena - ‘Satao’ a male elephant from another herd. Athena and Satao’s greeting each other in a symbolic ‘hand shake’ of the trunks is magnificent, emotional and be-fitting for such an occasion.

However, the tribulations of Athena and her herd are not over as they quickly realize that quenching their thirst is all very well but that they could soon die of hunger, as most of the vegetation has dried up. It is the heroism, leadership and experience of Athena the Matriarch that ensures the survival of her progeny.

If ‘Lion King’ set the stage of an epic African tale of wisdom, perseverance and determination; then the ‘Elephant Queen’ provides the sequel in a tale of epic heroism, leadership and sacrifice. The African continent survives because of its spirit of ‘Ubuntu’ – you are because we are. The heroic stories of communities right across the continent striving to save its wildlife from the savage attacks of western greed and civilization, is the reason why we shall survive as a continent with our rich natural resource of minerals; fauna; wildlife; rivers, lakes and mountains; and the people.

Zahid Rajan

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Release date: December 2015

Director: Christoforus Papalaliatis

Running time: 113 minutes

Languages: English and Greek (with sub-titles)

Website: http://www.worldsapartfilm.us/

Well-narrated Love Stories are hard to come by, but Worlds Apart set in Greece in 2015 in the context of the austerity measures imposed on it by the ‘Troika’, the misery and suffering it caused the Greek people and the arrival of immigrants in Europe; is a story of three relationships immersed in love with their own consequences. Beautifully stringed together in three segments, the film seamlessly delivers emotion, politics and economic themes with poignant and heart wrenching messages.

The film is directed by Greek actor, film director and screenwriter Christoforus Papakaliatis; and stars among others American actor Jonathan Kimble Simmons (‘Sebastian’) who received widespread acclaim for his role in Whiplash which won him Awards from the Academy, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA as ‘Best actor in a supporting role’ in 2014. The other actors are Christoforus himself as ‘Giorgos’, Andrea Osvart as ‘Elise’, Maria Kavoyianni as ‘Maria’, Minas Hatzisavvas as ‘Antonis’, Tawfeek Barhom as ‘Farris’, Niki Vakali as ‘Daphne’, Odysseas Papaspiliopoulos as ‘Odysses’ and Matthaios Korovesis as ‘Anthony’, Giorgos' son. The film grossed $5m at the box office and surpassed the performance of other blockbusters in the same year such as Star Wars, The Force Awakening and the James Bond Spectre in Greece.

Act 1: Daphne a student studying politics at the Greek University is nearly raped by two men on her way home one evening but is rescued by Farris, a Greek migrant from Syria living in Athens. Farris is a hawker on the streets and next sees Daphne on a bus on her way to the university. He quickly boards the bus and returns her phone, which she had dropped during the rape incident. Therein develops a story of pure love based on common understandings of their individual situations. Daphne comes from an unhappy situation at home and quickly embraces the unconditional love of Farris. Her father Antonis, whose businesses have collapsed because of the austerity, blames his woes on the illegal immigrants in Greece.

Farris on the other hand survives in the city by sleeping in an abandoned plane on the runway of a decrepit airport in Athens; and is in the process of procuring a forged passport to enable him to make his way to the Americas. His is a precarious life as he survives the insecurity and poverty of the streets of Athens.  

Their love is affected by the social turmoil created by right wing fascist groups in Greece who blame the immigrants for their economic woes. Once, Farris asks Daphne what she is studying and when she says ‘Politics’, he says ‘politics is dirty’. Both of them are victims of the politics of exclusion, violence and hate. The ending is tragic and poignant as Daphne realizes the devastating truth of her father’s nefarious nighttime activities.

Act 2: Giorgios is the marketing manager of a local company, which under the uncertain economic climate is facing an imminent take over by an international conglomerate. He is in an unhappy marriage situation and struggles with his relationship with his son. Sitting in a bar one evening he meets the swashbuckling, beautiful and self-confident Elise and has a one-night love affair, or so he thinks. Elise meanwhile has come to Greece to oversee the restructuring and takeover of the Company Georgis works for; but little does he know this that night.

The ugly truth of what Elsie really represents becomes apparent when she starts executing her mandate to fire employees of this Company right across the board, in order to meet her corporate responsibility of bringing the company to a level of financial profitability that will enable her own company back home to take over. The anger and frustrations of the employees become evident as some like Odysseas who has a pregnant wife appeals to Giorgios, knowing the latter’s relationship to Elsie, to save his job. , Giorgios remains aloof and Odysses ends up committing suicide. Simultaneously Giorgios battles with the demons within his marriage and tries to come to terms with the difficult questions his son Anthony asks about the state of their family lives, the fragility of their relationship and what the future holds for him.

Meanwhile Elsie and Giorgios carry on their fatuous passionate relationship without expectations of any long-term ties. Elsie’s idyllic world comes crashing down as she realizes that she is unable to reconcile her corporate responsibility with her decisions, which effect real lives, and resigns in sheer frustration and guilt.

Act 3: Sebastian meets Maria outside the supermarket where both are lonely in their own ways and looking for love and companionship. Sebastian, a German professor working at the local library and in love with books and the written word, soon draws Maria into his world of ideas, images, belongings and fantasies. Maria, who is very guarded about her family details and can only understand a smattering of English, comes across as focused, clear and realistic of what life offers her. However, the love-stricken Sebastian slowly breaks down the barriers of both language and culture, and builds an unlikely relationship.

The last half an hour of the film brings all the strands of Act 1, 2 and 3 together in a beautiful narrative that leaves the viewer stunned by the sensitivity, depth and moral leanings of modern Greece. The meaning of ‘Worlds Apart’ is unveiled in the frailty and subtlety of love, kinship and friendship. Running to almost two hours, one is spellbound to the end making the film a recommended viewing for all.

You can read more about the situation in Greece here

Director: Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network)

Year: 2017

Language: English

Country: United States

Running Time: 130 mins

Genre: Historical Legal Drama

The Vietnam War was fought for 19 years between 1 November 1955 – 30 April 1974 and it exacted an enormous human cost. It is estimated that between one million and 3.8 million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians died in the conflict. Additionally some 300,000 Cambodians, 62,000 Laotians and 58,220 US service members were also killed, and a further 1,626 USA soldiers remained missing in action. No mention is made in official statistics of the number of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians ‘missing’ although it is thought that about 300000 Vietnamese are still missing and unaccounted for. The war was principally between North and South Vietnam and was supported by their respective allies in what some refer to as a proxy war. The Soviet Union, China and other communist allies supported North Vietnam; the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, and other anti-communist allies supported South Vietnam.

Tired of the futility and brutality of the war hundreds of Americans became conscientious objectors to the war and refused to serve in it. Americans protested on the streets of America. Muhammad Ali refused to be conscripted into the war and was jailed and stripped off his boxing titles for it. Moreover, like Ali said, ‘I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong; no Vietcong ever called me nigger.’ This more or less informed the feelings of the Vietnam objectors.

Based on true events, The Trial of Chicago 7 follows the trial of seven Americans prosecuted for taking part in a protest against the Vietnam War outside the American Democratic National Convention in August 1968. The seven were: Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman( founding member of the Youth International Party – YIPPIES): Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden (leader and one time President of the Students for a Democratic Society - SDS): Alex Sharp as Rennie Davis (national organizer of community organizing for the SDS): Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin (founding member of the YIPPIES): John Carroll Lynch as David Dellinger (leader of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam - MOBE): Noah Robbins as Lee Weiner and Daniel Flaherty as John Froines. The eighth defendant was Bobby Seale (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who was the National Chairman of the Black Panther Party.

The prosecution were represented by Tom Foran and Richard Schultz , and the defendants by William Kunstler and the brave Leonard Weinglass who throughout his life stridently stood by the underdog and is famously known for his defense of the ‘Cuban Five’ in his later years. Eddie Redmayne plays Tom Hayden, better known for his role as Stephen Hawking in the 2014 film ‘The Theory of Everything’.

The seven were victims of historical circumstance, and were prosecuted by the state towards the end of the liberal Johnson Presidency regime, just as Richard Nixon took over. The new Attorney General John N Mitchell appoints the openly biased Julius Hoffman (played by Frank Langella) as the Judge and bullies the reluctant young prosecutor Richard Shultz into heading the prosecution.

The trial exposes the underhand tactics of the state as they try in every way possible to implicate the ‘Chicago 7’ in taking part in a ‘riot’, but which really was a peaceful non-violent protest outside the Democratic National Convention. The security sent in uncover FBI and police officers to infiltrate the ranks of the protestors to instigate violence and report back to the Attorney General’s office as the state prepared to arrest the protestors.

Attempts are made by the Judge to bully and intimidate the predominantly white jury by using Bobby Seale and the Black Panther Party as fall guys who have really nothing do with the trial of the ‘Chicago 7’. Bobby Seale time and again tries to alert the Judge that he was not part of the so called riot and was in Chicago for a mere four hours on another assignment altogether. However, the determination of the US Government to harass and intimidate the Black Panther Party is well known and the injustices and violence inflicted on Bobby Seale at the trial are shocking. Bobby Seale is eventually released after his case was declared a ‘mistrial’. During the trial, we learn of the true-life brutal assassination by the state of Fred Hampton who was at the time Chairman of Illinois Chapter Black Panther Party and who for a short while supports Bobby Seale at the trial from the public gallery.

The antics of the openly biased and confused Judge Hoffman dominates the case as he bullies the jury, abuses and pores scorn on the defendants and intimidates the defense lawyers in an effort to convict the Chicago 7 at the behest of a corrupt and racist system. The Judge struggles with names, repeatedly getting Leonard Weinglass’ name wrong, calling him ‘Feinglass,’ ‘Weinruss,’ and ‘whatever your name is’. He issues a record 175 ‘Contempt’ charges against the defendants and the defense lawyers for almost any imaginable utterance!

As the trial concludes the Judge tries to bait Tom Hayden with a ‘lenient sentence’ if he presents a ‘reasonable’ defense of the conduct of the Chicago 7. In his response, Tom Hayden starts reading out the names of the 4500 American victims of the Vietnam War and pandemonium ensues in the courtroom. In the end, five of the seven accused were convicted for inciting riots. However, a different judge overturned all convictions partially based on Judge Hoffman’s biases, and the Justice Department decided not to retry the case.

When released in September 2020, the film was the second most digitally streamed film made by Netflix. John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, ‘Sorkin has made a movie that's gripping, illuminating and trenchant, as erudite as his best work and always grounded first and foremost in story and character. It's as much about the constitutional American right to protest as it is about justice, which makes it incredibly relevant to where we are today.’