Senator Obama Goes To Africa
First Run Features // Unrated // $19.95 // December 11, 2007
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 7, 2008
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Watching "Senator Obama Goes to Africa" days after Barack Obama managed to win the Iowa Caucus is an enjoyable experience, as it manages to offer some insights into the man, as well as the situation currently in Africa. The film, which was directed by Bob Hercules and Keith Walker, sees Obama landing in Kisumu, Kenya - the land of his father - and being greeted by remarkable crowds. One woman discusses that Obama's visit was getting more attention by local media than the country's President.

The visit also sees Obama discussing the country's AIDS crisis (including criticizing the country's poor policies regarding the disease), and trying to encourage change and improvement in the health of the country's citizens. In a different community, he listens intently as small business owners from the local area discuss their ideas. As Obama notes, it's not a matter of having a shortage of good ideas, but it's a matter of outsiders not investing in them - until now. Obama gets a terrific reception from residents, not only because he represents a successful Kenyan who has come back to see them, but because they feel that he has the potential to enact change in US foreign policy.

The documentary also follows Obama to Robben Island, where he is given a look at Nelson Mandela's cell, while joined by one of Mandela's fellow prisoners. Shortly after, Obama heads to the Darfur region and gets a first-hand look at the horrific genocide that has taken place in the area. The refugees living in the camps tell absolutely devastating stories of the kinds of struggles that they had to endure to manage to get to the camp.

The documentary isn't a politicial documentary - it's largely watching a man returning to his roots - but returning with the ability and the desire to make change. The documentary does show Obama as a thoughtful, intelligent, passionate and genuine individual. My only real concern with the documentary is that it's just too short at 52 minutes + credits.

With a focus on issues within the country and the Mandela visit and Darfur, the piece does feel as if it doesn't get too far below the surface. The film feels like a 90-minute documentary shortened to fit in an hour-long TV format. The doc also doesn't really transition smoothly, leaving the different portions to feel somewhat like featurettes that have been tied together into a longer piece. The documentary is technically high-end, with fine camerawork and a production budget that doesn't appear limited.

Overall, this is a satisfactory short documentary that provides an overview of the trip and issues discussed, but I think filling out the running time with a deeper view of Obama's trip and the problems discussed would have made for a more informative and more memorable film.


The DVD

VIDEO: "Senator Obama Goes To Africa" is presented by First Run Features in 1.66:1 widescreen. The presentation quality is generally excellent, with fine sharpness and detail throughout the show, even in some of the dimly-lit interior moments. Some slight artifacting was spotted once or twice, but the picture otherwise remained clean and clear, with accurate color.

SOUND: The show's stereo soundtrack remained crisp and clear, with well-recorded dialogue and narration.

EXTRAS: Photo gallery, resource listing, bios and "A Visit to the Masai Mara Game Preserve with the Obama Family", which runs about 3 minutes and seems more like a deleted scene.

Final Thoughts: "Senator Obama Goes To Africa" offers an enjoyable look at Obama's trip, but it's largely an overview of both the trip and the country's problems that the Senator confronts during his stay. While I liked the documentary well enough, I also couldn't help but feel that the short running time meant the subjects seen within were not given too much of an in-depth look. The DVD presentation offers fine audio/video quality and a few minor extras. A definite rental (and it gets a "rent it" not because, while engaging, there's just not enough to it) for those who want to watch Obama's trip and learn more about himself as a person and his experiences in Africa.



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