ABC Africa by Abbas Kiarostami
Iran/Uganda, 2001, 84 minutes, digital projection, English and Farsi with English subtitles.
A documentary shot on digital video about the ravages of AIDS and civil war in Uganda, may seem at first like a radical departure for the director of "Taste of Cherry" and "The Wind Will Carry Us". But one of the most remarkable things about "ABC Africa" is the way Iran's most celebrated autuer makes such unlikely material very much his own. Invited by the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development to shoot a documentary about Uganda's orphans, Kiarostami and his cameraman Seifollah Samadian travelled around the country scouting locations, using mini-dv cameras to make visual notes. In true Kiarostami style, these jottings become the movie itself: an impressionistic, deceptively simple record of a visit, a journey, and a people struggling to survive. Most strongly reminiscent of "And Life Goes On" (in which a filmmaker journeys to the site of a devastating earthquake), "ABC Africa" is full of echoes of his previous films: the hypnotic tracking shots from car windows, the dirt-road villages, and especially the emphasis on the resilience and resourcefulness of children. Out of a population of 22 million, Uganda has 2 million people infected with HIV, 2 million already dead, and 1.6 million orphans, and, over the course of the ten day visit, Kiarostami comes across many heart-breaking sights (a child's body being wrapped in cardboard; a village where al the men have dies) Yet "ABC Africa" is ultimately an optimistic film, full of smiling faces, and, above all, full of musicheard on the street, played on car radios, and sung rapturously in school yards.
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