Leaving Africa: A Story About Friendship and Empowerment (2015)

IIRIS HARMA

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

Finland/Uganda, 2015.  Gerillafilmi.  Screenplay by Iiris Härmä.  Cinematography by . Produced by Visa Koiso-Kanttila.  Music by .  Film Editing by .  

Riitta is a doctor who came to Uganda in the mid-eighties and, since then, has been working at a health clinic that is partnered up with her NGO.  The clinic was started by a nurse named Kata, and the two women have been co-workers and roommates for thirty years by the time Iiris Harma’s cameras have shown up to record their story.  The challenges of spreading information about family planning, gender equality and marital counseling are a daily task for them that they provide with care, concern and salty affection, but these obstacles are small when compared with the growing political turbulence around them that threatens the clinic’s survival.  Uganda has been responding to tolerance of LGBT rights in other parts of the world with vehement resistance, accusing the women of being in a same-sex relationship and running a homosexual recruitment centre, which means that aside from negative public opinion this also means that their permit to continue working and accepting funding from Europe could be denied.  Riitta is herself on the cusp of retiring and leaving Africa for good, which gives her worries about the disaster she will leave behind if the clinic is not allowed to continue to do its work.  All these things contribute to an inspiring and important story worthy of this fascinating documentary, but at the heart of it is something so much more endearing: the friendship between these two women, who after decades of laughing and bickering together, is a wonder to behold.  Footage of their conversations, peppered with in-jokes and jibes (“There is no Madam here,” they frequently say to each other), is juxtaposed smoothly with their reactions to news footage of homophobic political rallies, touching on both the personal as well as the cultural (the resistance to gay rights is mainly rooted in religious prejudices that were brought to the country by its colonial past) without overstating the obvious.  It’s a magnificent film, a tribute to genuine heroes, unforgettable and goes straight to the heart.

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