Iranian filmmaker turns lens westward
Cinematography: Seyfolah Samadian
Studio information: New Yorker Video, 83 minutes
Original theatrical release: 2001
Though it may sound strange, Abbas Kiarostami’s documentary about Ugandan orphans is a joyful movie. Invited by a local charitable organization to document the country’s plight, Kiarostami wanders with a digital camcorder through villages that appear populated mostly by women and children. And far too few women at that, given the sheer number of kids who’ve lost parents to the HIV epidemic. Although he allows us to glimpse this situation, Kiarostami refuses to view Uganda solely through the lens of disaster. Blending a sense of purpose with a thirst for cultural details, he segues with heartbreaking ease from the rhythms of African music to the percussive sounds of the coffin builders plying their trade, just an everyday juxtaposition for people in Uganda. But his camera continually returns to thickets of children who perform crazy dances or leap into view; they’re as eager to enter the frame as Kiarostami is to pack them in.
At first, he seems an unusual choice to direct this film, since he hasn’t previously made a movie outside Iran, but once Kiarostami sets foot on African soil his usual preoccupations are suddenly universal. His rapport with children, his fascination with the contrasts of wealth and poverty and his humanistic approach to people living in social collapse are as relevant here as they were in the Koker region of Iran. Despite the locale, ABC Africa is both new and familiar for those who know Kiarostami, and it’s a great introduction for those who don’t.