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Reviewed by:
  • The Faces of Change Collection: The Kenya Series dir. by David MacDougall and James Blue
  • Alexander Fyfe
David MacDougall and James Blue, dir. The Faces of Change Collection: The Kenya Series. 1974 (re-mastered 2017). 121 min. Oromo (Boran dialect), with English subtitles, English. United States. Documentary Educational Resources. $359.95 (price for entire collection for individuals).

The Faces of Change Collection consists of twenty-six ethnographic films focusing on rural societies in Afghanistan, Bolivia, the China Coast, Kenya, and Taiwan. Produced by the noted Africanist Norman N. Miller for the American Universities Field Staff Documentary Program, the collection was conceived for use in the college classroom, an application that was supposed to be facilitated by the relatively short length of the films and the choice of five themes for each location, "providing a 25-cell matrix of materials that can be used in dozens of different combinations" (Miller, Faces of Change Series, 3). This pedagogical imperative was further supported by a "visual evidence" approach, a combination of research film and educational documentary that was intended to produce films of interest to researchers that were also optimized for the classroom. As Miller explains in the accompanying study guide, "Each film attempts to provide visual materials as a kind of raw data or primary evidence. There is an emphasis on process, on natural rhythm and pace, often following an event from beginning to end. The goal is to record enough materials on the screen to enable judgments to be made" (Miller 4). The Kenya series (reviewed here) is directed by ethnographic filmmakers David MacDougall and James Blue and contains four films that focus upon the Boran people (also known as the Borana Oromo people), pastoralists who live in the north of the country.

At the beginning of Kenya Boran, the longest of the four features, on-screen text that introduces the Boran to the viewer is superimposed over aerial footage of the area around Mount Marsabit in northern Kenya. We learn that while they previously "shifted with their herds between the lowlands and the mountain in search of grass and water," many of the Boran have now "settled permanently on the mountain." The ensuing footage, which consists mostly of the subjects talking with one another, or to an off-camera interviewer, centers on the community's raising of cattle and the strain that external factors—low rainfall, the demands of the national government, and, most frequently, the formal education system—place upon this traditional practice. As is customary for many ethnographic productions, the film features no narration and only minimal on-screen text, the latter serving to introduce the subjects, their roles within the community, and occasionally to orient the viewer in relation to what is happening. Several of the segments focus upon Peter Boru, a teenager who, rather than learning the traditional skills of a Boran herdsman, is receiving a formal education in Marsabit town. The viewer sees Peter interrogated by his father, Guyo Ali, about what he intends to do with this education; being [End Page 277] lectured by a schoolteacher (along with the rest of his class) on the importance of education; and practicing geography test questions with his friend. In one particularly poignant scene, he boasts of his learning to his friend Dokata, whose father has apparently elected to train him as a cattle herder rather than allow him to go to school. Peter's seemingly harsh words—"Really, you were rather stupid to act like that, my friend. Your father could have hired someone in your place. He's rich enough"—reflect the intensity of the debate among many of the film's subjects around the importance and impact of formal education. Other notable moments include a grandmother's argument for the importance of an education that she herself did not receive; a Government Chief's haranguing of the Boran about the importance of paying taxes; the herdsman Iya Duba's visit to his "cattle camp" where he checks on the status of his herd; and the arrival of a group of boisterous British tourists who, addressing the Boran in Kiswahili, appear to be primarily interested in purchasing bracelets that have not been offered...


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pp. 277-279
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