Review: Unknown Africa (2008)


Directed by: Richard Slater-Jones | 90 minutes | documentary

“Four dots in the Pacific,” is how Saba Douglas-Hamilton describes the Comoros, an archipelago off the coast of Africa. That these ‘dots’ do have something to offer, the documentary maker shows. You are immediately introduced to the youngest island where Saba dives into the jungle to show the volcano crater. She explains, among other things, that the Comoros are also called the ‘forgotten islands’. After the many coups d’état they have fallen into obscurity. Saba wants to find the legendary bat that only lives on the Comorian island of Anjouan. On the island of Moheli, the British set out to show the green turtle. Furthermore, in the first episode of ‘Unknown Africa’ you get to see a peculiar fish; the Coelacant. This marine animal dates from the same era as the extinct dinosaurs …

In the second part of ‘Unknown Africa’, Saba visits the Central African Republic. Here the documentary maker focuses on the rainforest Dzanga-Sangha. Saba honestly admits that she feels anything but at home in the jungle. Yet she is standing with a big smile between two trees that are wrapped in spider webs in which – it is estimated – a thousand of those eight legs reside. However, Saba’s attention is not focused on the countless insects that live in the rainforest. For example, she goes into the jungle with researcher Andrea Turkalo to spot the forest elephant in its natural environment. The local population also features Saba in the documentary. The British let themselves be guided by the Bayaka people in the rainforest where the tribe lived for years. This provides an interesting insight into the former lifestyle of these Africans.

The final piece of ‘Unknown Africa’ is Angola. Saba has been traveling around Angola for three days and spotting hardly any wild animals. The many wars have clearly left their mark. Saba suspects that the animals have moved to other areas as a result. In Serra Negra, the documentary maker finally sees a sign of wildlife. Subsequently, Saba crosses the Iona desert. After this journey of 160 kilometers, she comes across a family of jackals. The trip to the uninhabited island of Iha de Tigres provides exciting moments. Saba shows you the sad sight of an Angolan tourist market where there are still plenty of ivory souvenirs. The British ends her journey at Kussama National Park, which was previously one of the most beautiful nature parks in Africa.

Since you are so spoiled by the earlier parts, the last episode about Angola is a slight disappointment. That is a shame. Saba’s final conclusion about Angola is blunt and more images of the national park could have been shown. Indeed, it is said that Angola has just enough wild life to make it a good travel destination for nature lovers. Firstly, as a viewer, you do not get enough evidence that there are still enough wild animals in Angola and you can ask yourself whether you wish the land that the area is overrun by nature tourists? It will work fantastically for the economy, but for nature… This is very contradictory to Saba’s hope that nature will be restored. Apart from this blemish, ‘Unknown Africa’ is a well-constructed documentary. Saba knows from the first moment with her enthusiasm and cheerful appearance how to present the information to you in an easy and accessible way. Unknown Africa does not offer you complete history lessons; the documentary is mainly about discoveries in the field of nature. A beautiful BBC documentary, which ends too soon.

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