Documentary

Lest we forget the heroes behind the scenes

soundman

TO have seen what I have seen: Cinematographer Patrick Muiruri in Chip Duncan’s The Sound Man. Photograph courtesy unaff.org

IT’S NOT EVERY day that you get to watch a film which forces you to re-examine who you are as a human being in the world. Not in the sense of a frilly tale told with universal platitudes, but from a hard-hitting, real perspective that has nothing to do with commercialism yet draws from within the heart of the media and its reason for existing in the world. Chip Duncan’s documentary on the horrors of war in Africa, The Sound Man hits you firm and centrally. It reaches far beyond what any fictional work can do, as it shows you incidents, scenarios and things that will horrify you completely. Ultimately, watching it will enable you to re-understand what it is to be in Africa, with its ethos, fabric and texture that is, above all, about basic human decency.

A sensitive exploration, as the title indicates, of the professionals behind the scenes, this work looks at Africa through the eyes and words, the sound recorders and lenses of the media team of Kenyan men which include sound engineer Abdul Ramadhan, cinematographer Patrick Muiruri and photographer and Camerapix-founder, Mohamed Amin. They were a team who collaboratively told the world about what was happening in this continent of Africa. And without the input of either of these three, the focus would be stumped and swayed. And ultimately lost. It is the contribution of sound, photography and moving pictures that gives you a real sense of what was happening.

Of course, they were not the only team, and you may think of the Bang Bang Club in State-of-Emergency torn apartheid South Africa, which comprised Kevin Carter, Greg Marincovich, Ken Oosterbroek, Joao Silva or the men and women of the media associated with Afrapix comprising photographers such as Omar Badsha, Cedric Nunn, Paul Weinberg and Gisele Wulfsohn among others, as another, for instance. But this is not an egocentric work, pointing as it does to the muscle behind the ethos, the story that the teller tells.

As the narrative in this 27-minute-long documentary unfolds, and weaves between outbreaks of extreme violence in Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia and elsewhere, you understand the give and take between professionals who trust one another intimately, as you understand the tide of PTSD that infiltrates the lives of these people who tell the stories, who witness the terror, and those who love them.

You go away from this piece of cinematography not with a judgement toward Africa, but with a deep sense of empathy for the people who have been broken in its tides of terror. The intense and magnificently crafted cinematography makes you feel like this is an immersion experience, and those 27 minutes of the film’s duration feel like hours, weeks of exposure to the unmitigated horror of hatred between one group of people and another. It’s a foray into the heart of poverty, and a privileged insight into the broken heart of a man tortured by loss and flash-backs as it is an understanding of human nature. And as such, it is an extremely valuable document and one which should be watched widely.

The Sound Man was featured in the recent Konrad Adenauer Stiftung conference on war and the media, hosted by the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre. The session in which it was screened was introduced by the late Mohamed Amin’s son, Salim, who today runs Camerapix.

  • The Sound Man is directed, written, produced and edited by Chip Duncan, who also handled the work’s cinematography. Featuring sound design by Randy Bobo and additional photography by Moses Muiruri, it will be re-screened during the time of the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, April – July 2019 at the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre in Saxonwold. Call 011 640-3100.
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