SPECIAL FEATURE: Film Review: The Team

Film: The Team
Running time: 80 mins
Director: Patrick Reed
Starring: N/a
Genre: Documentary
Country: Canada

This English-language film will be screened at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, which takes place in London between 23rd March and 1st April, 2011. Find out more about this event by clicking here.

Can a TV show solve the problems of ethnic violence? The scriptwriter of The Team, a new Kenyan soap opera, certainly hopes so. Filmmaker Patrick Reed follows the cast and crew of this unique project.

Imagine the excitement of the average youngster with big dreams when there is a nationwide call for actors to star in a new soap about a football team.

In the opening scenes of this documentary, eager Kenyan youths line up to audition for a part. Some are already working actors, looking for their next job; others are complete novices with stars in their eyes, and hoping for a fast-track to Hollywood. However, it soon becomes clear that this is not the average casting call for the average show.

The directors and writers have bigger aspirations than just to make good TV; they hope that it will get all Kenyans thinking about ethnic conflict and inter-tribal relations. With the memories of the 2007 post-election violence still fresh in the national memory, and the 2012 elections looming ever closer, there is a real need for Kenyans to act and promote positive change.

The young actors selected are deliberately from a range of backgrounds – there are both men and women, Kikuyu and Luo, rich and poor. We learn a little about each main cast member and soon it is clear that political tensions bubble not far from the surface. However, they are all concerned about tribal relations and begin to share the hope of the directors that the show can promote change.

As the filming begins in earnest, the actors are stretched to their limits and sometimes it is dangerously uncertain as to where the acting ends and real life begins…

It is clear that with the documentary taking the same name as the TV show, Patrick Reed wanted to share the message and vision of the show’s makers, and to follow the story of a local production as it began to take shape. However, the film struggles to find any clear focus, which leaves it feeling slightly surreal. There are interviews with numerous members of the cast and crew, footage of the actors in their home lives and occasional glimpses of The Team on-set, but the aim of it all remains rather elusive. While it is interesting to get to know the actors, and see a bit of life on the other side of the lens, it becomes a bit like one long press release for the TV series, and one cannot help feeling that it would be more beneficial to see the actual show, which is, after all, the original creative project with its own clearly defined goal of promoting change.

One of the main problems is that there is not really a central theme or person to drive this documentary. It is hard to get more than a cursory overview of individual situations. It offers plenty of information about the situation in Kenya, but it struggles to make a deeper impact – it can feel, at times, like a list of facts. This leaves the viewer somewhat disengaged. We can appreciate that the situation in Kenya is a difficult one, and we can applaud what the TV show is attempting to do, but it is difficult to really feel involved with what is going on.

Even the actors seem to be lacking the understanding to empathise; one explains how he is finding it difficult because his character is not really much like him, which leaves the viewer wondering if he gets the point of what his chosen career involves. Most of the young people involved have only a limited notion of how to make a difference to their country. They just want the chance to be an actor and to improve their own lives. Of course, they are all conscious of the problems and the tribal divides within Kenya, but how to apply this knowledge to the wider social situation somewhat eludes them. This is not a criticism of the actors – they cannot be expected to have this kind of vision – but it does mean that the documentary fails to hit its stride, as the message it is trying to promote is not really being demonstrated.

However, in the closing minutes, the documentary does seem to find a rhythm and a purpose. When The Team begins showing on TV and attracts a huge audience, the cast and crew find a reason to reunite and begin to understand the show’s true potential as a catalyst for change. As they go around the country, interacting with local communities and encouraging people to consider the issues, the documentary also comes into its own as a way to show the role of the TV show as a starting point for real discussion and understanding. Frustratingly, in these final scenes, this feels like what the documentary was supposed to be about, and the previous seventy minutes should have been condensed into an introduction. The potential for this to have been a really meaningful film becomes clear, but sadly, at this point, it is all over.

The Team is a documentary worth seeing to understand the Kenyan situation, but it fails to really hit the mark until the final minutes. KS

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