Yinka Olatunbosun recounts some of the narratives in a 70-minute documentary movie by a German film maker, Caroline Reucker whose film production, “Le Ciel, La Terre Et L’homme” was screened at the Nigerian Film Corporation Ikoyi, a satellite venue for the 2019 IREP Documentary Film Festival with support from Goethe Institut, Lagos
It was unbelievable. Nigerian Film Corporation’s cinema hall’s ravishing make over was a pleasant surprise to a first-time visitor to the venue since its renovation commenced. The raked seats, air-conditioning system, sound, footlights and life-size screen spelt a new chapter for the organisation, which for many years had been regarded as moribund. The arriving guest from Berlin, Caroline Reucker wouldn’t know that. Initially, she was taken aback by the deserted look of the venue of the much-trumpeted documentary film. She had not come all the way from Germany to watch her film all by herself. Call that “African Time”.
Caroline Reucker is fresh out of film school. Her final year project is an atmospheric documentary set in a desert in Morocco, a holiday destination for her family. The challenge of finding an original story can be daunting for a city dweller but it is not far-fetched. After sounding off the idea with her father, she began a journey into a production that would last for three years.
She was fascinated by the life of the nomadic shepherds in the desert. Most of them live in temporary structures such as tents with young children and older ones who are quickly indoctrinated into hard yet simple life. Little did they know that some of these children have utopic desires of city life.
Of course, some of the scavengers along the desert coasts have dreams that had been submerged under daily anxieties which could manifest in form of wind storm, flood or other elements of nature. One of them was a black belt in martial arts but life may have dealt him more blows than his opponents in the ring could have.
From near-rags to dented cooking wares, poverty has dug its claws into the daily life at the desert. With very little water available, in relation to the dust around, the settlers often look dirty and dusty.
Told in episodic plots, the stories of the documentary were delivered in Arabic and Tamazirt with subtitles in English. Featuring Ahmed Hamri, Youssef and Lahcen Aridall, Idir Aukrouch, the story traversed the natural to the supernatural.
One of the protagonists of the movie claimed to have received a stranger in his tent where he guards the mobile telecommunications mast. And for a month, they co-habited before he discovered that the stranger was a ghost.
The perpetually windswept desert posed some challenge for Reucker and her film crew. The slapping force of the wind beneath the tent damaged one of the camera lenses. As though the fierce weather situation was not enough, the language barrier had to be overcome using the interpreters. One of the interpreters fell very ill and there was no health care facility at the desert. That singular event slowed down the course of shooting.
Still, Reucker took care to give a broad account of life at the desert, not just from the perspective of the displaced persons. Although the story ended in a night of festival at the desert which is one of the biggest tourist attractions at the desert, it was actually the genesis of the movie development.
As the director and script-writer, Reucker investigated the story of destroyed buildings in the desert region. Apparently, some investors had seen economic potentials for building hotels and holiday inns at the desert. However, when a violent storm came through, the beautiful buildings were destroyed.
To escape the life at the desert, there seems to be one option: to move to the city. Working at construction sites, fetching water, and other menial jobs await anyone from the city outskirts. Returning to the desert from the city is itself another story. Without any public means of transportation, several days of walk along the dusty terrain is the way back home.
At the desert, more construction sites have evolved as investors are relentless in creating a haven for fun seekers. It means that construction starts very early in the morning because by midday, the sun would have become so excruciating, depleting anyone’s energy reserve in no time.
As a female film maker, Reucker had her own share of discrimination from that patriarchal region. Most of the time, questions were directed at her male crew members even after the natives had been told that she was the one in charge of the entire production process. Her earlier visits to the desert had been helpful as she already established some contacts she could leverage on to get her scoop and develop what will be a fine narrative. Her cinematography was buried in establishing the locale, showcasing the beauty of the landscape and juxtaposing these physical elements with the ugly truths of human existence.
The documentary title which simply translates in English as “Heaven, Earth and Man” captured the universal theme of survival. It was screened specifically for the audience drawn from the Pefti Film School in Lagos who arrived in droves at the venue about 40 minutes into the movie. The director obliged the cinema technicians to begin the screening all over again and the grateful lot reciprocated with zillions of questions after the screening.