Today: April 17, 2024

Africa United

A hugely spirited film that looks at the difficulties facing a group of children on their way to The World Cup in South Africa.

 

A one point Africa United was tipped as this year’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008) but was never quite given the commercial push of its Indian counterpart. There are obvious parallels to be had but overall the tone of Africa United is much more upbeat and light hearted,
despite the story looking at hardship in a third world country and traumas the
characters must face.

 

Dudu (Ndayambaje) is obsessed with football, he sees himself as a future manager in the beautiful game. When his best friend Fabrice (Nsengiiyumva) is spotted by a talent scout to play in the World Cup opening ceremony Dudu sees a chance to make the dream a reality. Taking his sister and all the street-smart he has the three set off to cross the better part of the continent in order to reach the finals in South Africa. Along the way they will meet new friends, make enemies and discover everything, good and bad, that Africa has to offer.

 

While it might not include Slumdog’s poverty to riches, via child slavery antics, Africa United does deal with the big issues of the continent, not least of all HIV. However, it does so with an endless array of charm and is never heavy hitting. Instead the film paints fairly broad strokes, Dudu is poor and has to beg, steal and borrow while
Fabrice is rich, but more than anything the film is about some hugely loveable
characters achieving something in the face of adversity.

 

The look of the film is in keeping with the light tone and as such everything is shot in vibrant colours. Feature film debut director Gardner-Paterson creates an almost utopian look to the continent and the sub-plot, told as a story in beautiful almost Wes Anderson, Fantastic Mr.Fox (2009) and The Life Aquatic (2004), like animation, gives the film a child-like innocence in the power of dream
that always leaves you smiling.

 

However, in many ways this is also Africa United’s biggest flaw. It is almost too cute and too light-hearted to be aimed at anything other than a young audience. While there is fun to be had for an older audience the overall feel is one of kids adventure with an undercurrent of
world politics. With a 12 certificate the film is unlikely to reach some key audience members that would welcome just such a film while also learning more than they might be aware of.

 

For everyone else though the film is still a lot of fun. This is mainly due to an
affectionate central role from Ndayambaje as Dudu. He is a ball of infectious
smiles and endlessly entertainment lines. In fact Africa United is very much his story and by the end he has stolen your heart to such an extent that a lump will firmly reside in the throat for at least the duration of the credits.

 

Funny and heart warming Africa United is an affectionate love letter to Africa
without ever making you feel guilty for enjoying it. It is a shame it will not find a broader audience as it has some important things to say without ever feeling like a plea for charity.

 



 

Interview

 

The young stars of the film were interviewed on
location in Burundi, near the end of production: Eriya Ndayambaje
(Dudu), Roger Nsengiyumva (Fabrice), Sanyu Joanita Kintu (Beatrice),
Yves Dusenge (Foreman George) and Sherrie Silver (Celeste).

 

How would you describe your characters?

 

Eriya: My character is the main character, I have to get every
person to be united so we can all make it to the World Cup. Dudu is a
manager and an orphan. Very funny and cheeky! And good and friendly to
everyone. He also cares for his sister.

 

Sanyu: Beatrice is a very holy girl: she cares about God a lot. Very humble. She cares about her brother.

 

Yves: Foreman George is a child soldier who has had the worst
experience of them all. The worst experience a child can ever carry. He
meets the others in the camp and as travels with them he starts to
change, to become a new person. What he has to do is make a choice, on
the way to the World Cup, to be a new person.

 

Sherrie: I would say our team, Africa United, is a team full
of children all with experiences. In the case of Celeste, she’s a girl
who has run away from home because of arranged marriage issues. She
landed in the wrong place. She’s basically a 15 year old girl going on
20. When she meets the children, she discovers a new Celeste, a Celeste
that can be nice, a Celeste that can be caring for other people. That’s
Celeste.

 

Roger: Fabrice is cocky, arrogant, annoying, stupid, naive…
He’s nearly all of the bad things I can say about myself – and then
more! There’s only one thing connecting him to his friend Dudu, which is
football. And I think at the end that connects everyone. Fabrice has a
very nice upbringing but he’s not really one to share it with others.
It’s nearly because of him that the whole journey comes to nothing , but
the manager keeps it together.

 

What has surprised you the most about being in the film?

 

Roger: How hard everyone else is working. Especially the crew,
who don’t really get recognised. I mean, you’ll see us guys on the
screen at the end of the day, but it is the crew who are there at 6AM.
They are there first and they leave last. It’s just amazing how hard
they work.

 

Sherrie: Before we got on set our director was telling us,
‘Are you sure you guys aren’t going to be too nervous? Because there are
going to be so many people on set…’ When she said ‘so many people’ I
thought she was talking about, like, 20 people. Well, there are more
than 20 people! I’ve realised that it takes all of us. You can’t just
have the cast – you can’t just have the main cast and not have the
extras. It takes everyone.

 

Yves: I have learnt a lot, because I have never dreamt of
being an actor or acting or being in a movie. I just enjoyed watching
movies. So I’ve learned to act. Also, what goes on behind the scenes.
How they do explosions, shooting and everything. I used to watch action
movies and think, ‘These guys are lying’. Actually, no: you find out
that it’s a true explosion!

 

What are your favourite movies?

 

Eriya: Action movies.

 

Sherrie: Scary movies and chick flicks.

 

Sanyu: Comedy

 

Roger: Any genre really – apart from chick flicks! But every
single film with Will Smith, particularly Pursuit Of Happyness. It’s a
brilliant film.

 

What has been your favourite day of shooting?

 

Roger: Probably the day when we were in Soweto in South
Africa. We were filming the last scenes of the film, but it was pretty
early on in the making and we got a 10-minute break and went into the
Soccer City Stadium. For someone who loves football it was just amazing.
So, that and the scene where we jump in the swimming pool! The scene
was all about us enjoying ourselves and there was quite a lot of that!

 

Eriya: My favourite was the day of the explosion, when the
car exploded. Bang! And then Tulu [Emmanuel Jal] was shooting! That was
nice, man. That was cool.

 

Sanyu: My best scene is the same as his: the explosion! And also when I got to put my feet in the pool.

 

Sherrie: My favourite scene was when I got to hold the gun,
when Foreman George had just finished fighting Tulu. On that day I felt
like it was my chance to show that I can be a good actress.

 

What has been the hardest part?

 

Sherrie: My hardest part has been seeing Debs unhappy with a particular shot. I don’t think anything can be harder than that.

 

Yves: There’s no hardest day for me, because this is like an
experience for me, so the whole time there’s no bad thing, no hardest
thing. Everything is OK.

 

Eriya: My hardest thing is going on set and then you have to do school.

 

Roger: Yeah, well-played!

 

Eriya: You’ve just come from set in the hot sun, come to school! That’s hard, man.

 

Roger: I’d say the hardest shooting day was when I had to walk
barefoot on this hot railway track, where we were walking down for like
this 50 metre stretch until they could say ‘Cut!’. That had to be the
hardest part for me.

 

What is Debs like as a director?

 

Roger: She’s been brilliant.

 

Sanyu: Wonderful!

 

Eriya: Great!

 

Sanyu: Every good word you could think of.

 

Sherrie: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

 

Roger: It’s how she brings out the characters – because she knows you.

 

Sherrie: Debs will not start shooting until the cast are
happy. Although she directs us, she also cares for our welfare as well,
whether it’s on set or off set.

 

Roger: I think the amazing thing about her is she says very
little. She says the most important things that she needs to say. If
it’s not important then she won’t say it. And I think that’s the best
thing. Because when you’re trying to get into the zone of what scene
you’re doing, the most important thing is not for someone to come up to
you and just crowd you with loads of words. So she’s really careful with
what she says to you.

 

Yves: One word for Debs is amazing. That’s all I can say.

 

Sanyu: She says little but it means a lot.

 

Finally, what football teams do you support?

 

Sherrie: Arsenal.

 

Eriya: Barcelona.

 

Roger: Liverpool are the best team.

 

Yves: The Blues! Chelsea! Chelsea!

 

Sanyu: Any team that wins.

 

Sherrie: I support Africa United!

 

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website: thekolsocial.com

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