56th BFI London Film Festival: Tall as the Baobab Tree Review
After seeing some films that focus on Africa and its affairs – War/Dance, Return to Africa’s Witch Children and The Great African Scandal, I was longing to watch a film that wasn’t a documentary and one that would address a different issue than child soldiers or corruption. I was very excited when I got a chance to see Jeremy Teicher’s first feature film Tall as the Baobab Tree. The film was inspired by true stories from his documentary This Is Us, the short which was also nominated for a Student Academy Award.
Tall as the Baobab Tree is a subtle story of sisterly love, which takes place in a remote village in Senegal. Their simple life is dictated by the African culture and strict village rules. Where most of life’s decisions are made by using God’s name rather than common sense. Coumba (Dior Ka) and Debo (Oumoul Ka) are inseparable. Their love and dedication for each other is very moving. Coumba is an ambitious and intelligent young girl. After passing her exams she happily hops back home to see her family. Unfortunately, her happiness doesn’t last long as her brother Sileye’s (Alpha Dia) “unexpected accident threatens the family’s survival”. She is asked to look after the cow herd while her brother recovers from his injury. Unaware of the troubles, Coumba fulfills her father’s wish to look after the animals. After a while he informs the family that, for them to pay the hospital bills, he must marry off the youngest daughter Debo.
Coumba and Debo
Coumba’s emotional plea for her father not to give away Debo, only leads her to plan in secret on how to help her sister out. She gets a job as a housekeeper at Safari Hotel, while her good friend Amady (Cheikh Dia) looks after the cows. Her determination,hard work and sacrifice impressed me hugely. She gets the money she desperately needed, runs to her father hoping that she’d be able to stop him from sending Debo away. He accepts the money and goes to the village elder to consult on the matter. Unfortunately, the chief decides against it and asks him to honor the deal with Debo’s future husband. Devastated, Coumba lets her sister go but still promises that she will be there for her no matter what. Everything goes back to the way it was before, the family is back to their daily routines and chores, only without Debo. I must say that the mother’s character caught my attention too. She didn’t speak a lot but when she did it seemed like she knew more than anyone else. She advices Coumba to agree with the father’s decisions and learn to respect the tradition and customs of the village instead of going against it. I loved Mboural Dia’s performance as the mother. Her moving performance in Tall as the Baobab Tree “speaks to her strong abilities as an improviser”. You should all know that the people who portrayed Coumba, Debo, Amady, Sileye, Mother and Father have no acting experience whats however.
I appreciate the way Jeremy tackled the subject of a child’s early marriage as well as an arranged marriage. We are all aware that there are many unsolved issues in Africa and the aforementioned is one of them. I am glad that the director introduced such an important topic in a peaceful and delicate way. The story was beautifully shot in Senegal, with great cinematography by Chris Collins and, pleasant to my ear, Senegalese music in the background. I really like what Keith Shiri, BFI London Film Festival, said about the film ” Effortlessly moving and utterly involving… an exquisitely performed and beautifully photographed drama that is a marvel to watch.”
Written by Maggie Gogler
The young film crew
Tall as the Baobab Tree will be screened at the 56th London Film Festival in October, 2012.
October 14th, 8:45 pm – Ritzy, Screen 2
October 18th, 4:15 pm – ICA, Screen 1
Education Event (tickets by request only): October 15th, 10:30 am – LFF Education Ritzy