ABC Africa (Kiarostami, 2001)

Iranian director Abbas Kiarotami and his small crew travel to Uganda in early 2001 to document the AIDS/HIV crisis and the resulting increase of orphaned children over the past twenty years. While any sort of narrative structure takes a back-seat to experience, Kiarostami focuses on the Uganda Women’s Effort to Save Orphans or U.W.E.S.C.O., which sets up a support system between single mothers caring for orphans, sometimes up to 35 children for each household. U.W.E.S.C.O. establishes groups of women in a community who save money each week, putting funds into bank accounts, shared assets, creating trust between all involved toward a better future. The staggering number of orphans gives you a sense of the plight these people are going through, but you’d never know it from their confident, truly inspiring attitude toward solving the problem. Shot with a loose and fluid camera, Kiarostami’s eye rarely drifts from the children and the people who care for them. No government interviews, no foreign political pundits weighing in, just the smiles and tears of the people fighting this epidemic on the front-lines. ABC Africa fits beautifully next to all of Kiarostami’s fiction films, more an awakening than a plea for help. Moments of clarity abound, including a stunning segment in the middle of the film where the lights of their hotel go out, Kiarostami and his crew stuck in the darkness, attempting to find their way through a complex and difficult situation. Their complaints soon turn to realizations concerning the great human will to adapt and improve, a universal theme throughout the film. Later, Kiarostami’s camera finds a group of children playing in the street, panning up ever so slightly to reveal another smaller boy walking down a path with a bushel of sticks on his head. After another child makes him drop the sticks, the boy swiftly and defiantly picks up the huge stack of wood and continues on his way; an everlasting image of strength and courage. The journey of ABC Africa calls attention to the human element behind the facade of world media coverage and government apathy. U.W.E.S.C.O. realized a long time ago helping themselves would produce a better life than simply waiting to be saved. Kiarostami’s respect for this credo can be seen in his long, revealing takes of the Ugandan people, existing, singing, laughing, and surviving.

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