Sitting down opposite a small group of school kids at the screening for Africa United, the last thing I expected was a heart-rending and contemporary tale with a strong message but that's what I got.
Set in a part of Africa that would otherwise never be seen by many, this shocking account brings us on an uneasy journey of cultural enlightenment and endless hope with the tale of an infectiously optimistic 'dream team'.
After being spotted by a member of the World Cup committee, aspiring footballer Fabrice (Nsengiyumva) is asked to travel to South Africa to take part in the opening ceremony. Along with his manager Dudu (Ndayambaje) and Dudu’s little sister Beatrice (Joanita Kintu) the three set off on a 3,000 mile journey, through seven countries, in a bid to make it to the World Cup on time. Totally underestimating the distance of such a voyage, they are helped along the way by former child soldier Foreman George (Dusenge) and runaway Celeste (Silver).
Along the way the World Cup walkers become involved in hilarious adventures but will their dream to make it to South Africa become a reality?
Although the child actors in this often dark film won’t be winning any Oscars in the near future, it doesn’t matter, because the objective of the film is not that. The actors, locations and jokes are just a backdrop to the issues raised - AIDS, sex labour, guns and child exploitation. What starts out as just another kids' film, turns into a compelling and educational insight into the rarely discussed side of Africa.
While the humour does lighten the mood, even some of the jokes are linked back to the turmoil and poverty of the area. The dark undertones are never far away, and the ending is as unforeseen as what came before it. After saying all of this, the portrayal of Africa is far from grim. We get to experience the different cultures and people within the seven countries, with a pretty authentic narration from the fabulous Dudu who draws you in with his contagious enthusiasm.
Just like that content group of school kids munching away on popcorn through the screening, I think this film will appeal to those looking for an educational adventure.
Not sure if it’s one for a Saturday night date though.