I came out of Africa United feeling pretty good about myself. Well, it’d be bad if I didn’t, really. Debuting big screen director Debs Gardner-Paterson set out to do a movie that is aimed for the family and tugs at the heart strings when it needs it and for that, it works.
But that more has to do with the pure charm, charisma and visuals that come out of the film rather than anything revolutionary it does outside of that little thing of making Africa actually seem a great place to travel to rather than a hive of disease, crime and no hope for anyone. That’s also not to say it gives a glowing representation of Africa either but it’s a really nice blend of really beautiful shots of the continent as well as parts where Africa’s reality hits you, but not enough for the number for Comic Relief to pop up in the corner, waiting for Lenny Henry, Ewan McGregor or Robbie Williams to remind you of it.
You’re instantly introduced to Dudu, a young football fan and wannabe Agent/Manager from the poor parts of Rwanda, who is always involved in the activities of Fabrice, a young Football player from the upper class part of Rwanda, who gets spotted by a FIFA agent to play in the opening ceremony of the 2010 World Cup in, as he describes it, ‘Africa United: The Team for the Dream’. As would be expected with movies such as these, the trip from Rwanda to South Africa by bus instead turns into a trip from Rwanda to the Congo and, along with Dudu’s sister Beatrice, end up having to travel all the way to South Africa to hopefully make it in time for the World Cup in Soccer City. Think Homeward Bound without the dogs and with added football.
Along the way, they manage to meet up with two other kids, both wanting to escape from lives they were forced into such as the hard on the surface Foreman George who is escaping from recruitment into the Congo Youth Army. This is probably Africa United strongest point with the kid actors being not only well represented in their respective back stories but are also really fun to watch. Dudu, being played by young Ugandan theater actor Eriya Ndayamabaje, was a character particularly close to my heart and from the moment he begins the movie by making a ball out of string, a condom and rubber sticks and talks about not having sex without a condom, he had me right until the end. Britain has a good showing, too, with former Norwich FC tryout Roger Nsengiyumva and Sherrie Silver, already being talked about in the British press as someone to look out for, doing convincing jobs in their roles even though they themselves have only lived in Africa for mere parts of their childhood.
One factor that makes it stand out from other family films is the use of animated sequences, all using objects and elements found in Rwanda. Throughout their journey, Dudu tells a story about a great manager sent by God to get a ball made for the ‘game at the end of the world’ with each character on the journey being represented by a different figure. But these are done in a vivid, colorful way, representing the pure craziness of what goes on in Dudu’s head but also showing a pure childish feel to how his world is represented and how he thinks about it. There were defiantly parts in those sequences where you could tell that this was going to be what the film is being recognized for as, even though it may not be the most original way of doing it, it defiantly felt the most fresh.
If you’ve seen a family film like this before, you probably know that I’m going to say the film’s biggest downfall is that you can kind of predict how it works out in the end for everyone but it does it in such a way that it’s more hidden and makes other parts less predictable and more involving to the character development. One part in particular near the end involving Dudu and Fabrice, was one I didn’t think would happen but other, more fine tuned film minds might guess it the very moment it happens. It’s one of those things that depends on how you look into your movies on whether that’ll bug you or whether, like me, you’ll care more about the journey rather than where the journey is going to.
Whilst the film isn’t an impressive spectacle of film making, nor will you be hearing about it much by the time Oscar season comes around like a certain ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ was, Africa United does enough as a family film and a film representing a continent bogged down in negative representations. It also helps that it is a tonne of fun which, in a genre that seems to mostly hit either end of the spectrum in terms of overall entertainment, is always important when choosing what to watch this week.
Africa United is out now in the UK.