Director's Statement

The most meaningful relationships we have in life are most often with the people we choose to call our friends. Unlike the blood relation of a family member, friends are people we are drawn to—sometimes for inexplicable reasons—and yet, somehow, the relationship works and improves our lives. It's that beauty of an unlikely friendship that drew me to this project. Venance is a scientist and philosopher from Tanzania who invited his American friend, Kris, on a life-changing journey back to his homeland. He is African by birth but over the nine years since he's been in the United States, his identity has shifted toward the Western World. Kris, on the other hand, is a young woman who has grown up to a life of privilege in America. Yet there is something about the two of them together that, as a friendship, works beautifully. What’s interesting about the film is that neither one of them could have anticipated the tremendous challenges they would face on this trip—both to their own safety and to their friendship.

I worked with Venance to determine our route, over an intensive seven week period. The journey's map seemed almost to present itself. We both felt committed to the notion that we as a group would need to ready ourselves and free our minds and souls from any preconceived views. We would grow and peel the layers of our western lives away from us as we journeyed through the country in an effort to be truly ready to meet the Haya people (Venance's tribe).

We thought the best way to do this was to start in the big city where we would more easily fit in. From there we would slowly lessen access to modern conveniences and commercial existence as we ventured off the beaten path. We took in the breathtaking landscape of the countryside and occasionally stopped to visit with the locals in the tiny villages that dotted the dirt roads. We set high goals for us as a team by taking on the seven day trek to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. While we felt we had prepared ourselves physically for any hardships we might encounter, the biggest challenge turned out to be the mental aspects of taking our lives into our own hands—with no guarantee of a positive outcome. From a director’s standpoint, we had to be in the moment— no matter how frightening it was– to allow events to unfold and be open to anything that presented itself.

I don't believe it is possible to return from such a journey unchanged. Had we just visited the typical tourist spots of The Serengeti, Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro we would have walked away with a profound sense of Tanzania’s beauty but it was the interaction that occurred far from the tourist locations that made an indelible imprint on our souls. Throughout the trip we learned valuable lessons about our humanity and the ability to exist on sheer faith and determination. The trip proved to be incredibly introspective as Ven and the people of Tanzania taught us to look within rather than to just expect solutions from outside ourselves. There were, however, situations where our western philosophy and ideology was of benefit and positively impacted the locals.

Probably the greatest impact of the trip was when we literally stumbled into a four-year-old orphan, Anita. Her life seemed to hang in the balance and I firmly believe we as a team were meant to meet her and pick her up when she most needed it. Had our shoot only lasted for six weeks rather than seven we would have an entirely different film the greatest emotional impact of the entire journey occurred in the last five days. I am thankful that we were able to hold firm to the plan to just allow things to happen. I believe that is when true magic happens in documentary filmmaking.

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