Wooden Camera
TLA Releasing // Unrated // $24.99 // March 15, 2005
Review by Daniel W. Kelly | posted March 30, 2005
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
The Movie:
Wooden Camera is an English language film that almost literally lets us see life in post apartheid South Africa through the eyes of children.

The Story:
In modern day South Africa, two young teen boys, Madiba and Sipho, have a dead body literally roll to their feet after a train goes by. They find two things on the body: a gun and a video camera. Sipho takes the gun, Madiba, the camera. To avoid questions, Madiba's friend Benny builds a box to put the camera in so it looks fake, and Madiba can film stuff without raising eyebrows. While Madiba immerses himself in filming everything and everyone around him, Sipho begins a dangerous street life involving drugs and theft—thanks to the power he discovers in his mostly bulletless gun. Both boys befriend a privileged white girl named Estelle, who has no prejudice running through her system, despite her completely racist father. As a result, Estelle becomes extremely rebellious and begins spending time with both Madiba and Sipho. With the help of his friends and a white teacher of the arts, Madiba is inspired to be a film maker, while Sipho slips deeper and deeper into a world of darkness, and Estelle struggles to break free from her father's oppression.

The film follows a very direct path, although there are some twists along the way. It feels very much like a documentary (due in part to much footage being from the perspective of Madiba's camera). The young people carry the entire movie, quite convincingly, bringing their childhood interacting to life. And we get to see life in South Africa—both the beautiful and the ugly—thanks to a director who practically IS the boy seeing everything new through his camera. And the magic is director Ntshaveni Wa Luruli 's ability to go from whimsical to tragic, and show the parallel innocence and corruption that these children are dealing with all at once. You can actually FEEL how the events around them are affecting them. This is definitely not a film for the casual viewer, but for those who like to awaken their social conscience through film. This one really does the trick.

The DVD

Video:
The film is 1:85:1, anamorphic. Being very independent, the whole film almost feels like it is being shot through Madiba's video camera. The color is so washed out it nearly looks black and white. It's extremely dark. The footage is soft and pixelated. Yet, the quality of the film speaks to the raw grittiness of the very place that is its subject.

Sound:
The Dolby stereo benefits mostly the musical cues, which are sharp and clear with left/right separation. Most other sounds come from the center and are generally somewhat muffled and muddy. The bass is very powerful and distorts easy, so you must take concentration out of it.

Extras:
Just a few extras. 13 chapter breaks, English subtitles for hearing impaired, a still gallery of 10 pictures that are surprisingly sharp and clean, and trailers for four films: Gunshy, No Rest for the Brave, 800 Bullets.

Final Thoughts:
Wooden Camera shows you, with a fictional story that feels real, how children in post apartheid South Africa live. If you're interested in the humanistic side of world events…check this one out.



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