Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 2008. Semtex Films. Screenplay by Madonna. Cinematography by Kevin Brown, Grant James, Nathan Rissman, Marc Shap, John Martin White. Produced by Angela Becker. Music by Patrick Leonard. Film Editing by Danny Tull.
Madonna wrote and produced this touching documentary about the nation of Malawi, reportedly the second poorest country in the world, currently suffering the devastation of AIDS to the tune of one million children left parentless by the disease. The film focuses on a group of children and follows their experiences as they look to survive as best as they can against impossible odds, some of them heads of their households at pre-teen ages, others toddlers who have no idea that they too are suffering from AIDS. Much has been made in the press of Madonna’s involvement in Malawi, particularly her adoption of her son David (who is shown briefly in the film), and most of it is unfair griping at an easy target: it’s quite possible that the Queen of Pop has ulterior motives for bringing this country’s problems to light and personally feeding and housing approximately 25,000 of its children, but quite frankly, it really doesn’t matter. A continent that has been pillaged and plundered by colonialists for its resources (including free human labour) for multiple generations isn’t going to do much worse because of the do-gooder attitude of a rich white lady. We’ve lived through a generation where people stand in front of Holocaust museums and paint “Never Again” on placards while Rwanda happens because the U.N. is debating endlessly about whether or not they’re dealing with “genocide” or “acts of genocide”: if Madonna dons a pair of Pradas and heads south or Angelina hops into her plane and adopts children around the world merely for publicity, they are at least doing something active, and children are eating as a result. As for the documentary itself, it is well-crafted and incredibly moving, Madonna commendably leaving herself out of it for the most part (fans will be disappointed to see only a handful of shots with her in them, apart from her narration), though it starts to crumble in its final third: Madonna’s coverage of the organization Spirituality For Kids, with which she is involved, gets away from the cold, hard facts being depicted earlier and starts to revel too much in gooey rhetoric, and this movie could use a hell of a lot more irony. Darwin’s Nightmare it most certainly is not, but the hearts of all involved are in the right place and there is much to be learned about a place in the world where people’s smallest problems make many of our worst look like a day at the spa. The film is available to be viewed in its entirety on YouTube, the first feature film to make its commercial premiere in this manner.