Using a sack load of ingenuity and sass (and a World Cup wall chart for a map), three pint-sized young soccer fans set out to cross nearly 5,000 kms through the endless horizons of Africa in pursuit of an unlikely dream: to get to the World Cup soccer trials. As they walk they gather a tribe - a ragamuffin team - of broken and/or brilliant characters who help them negotiate a way through a series of glorious, dangerous, hilarious and often bizarre situations.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Road movie, adventure, comedy drama, a will-they-make-it ... no matter what label you give it, Africa United is a unique piece of filmmaking, full of the joys and wounds of Africa. Uplifting and thought provoking by turns, Rhidian Brook's screenplay is wonderfully realised by director Debs Gardner-Paterson - including a few animation inserts to add texture.
But the undoubted star and strongly beating heart of the film is young Eriya Ndayambaj playing Dudu, the self-appointed manager to the slightly older Fabrice, played with naïve charm by Roger Nsengiyumva, whose emerging soccer skills are the reason for this journey. When a FIFA scout spots Fabrice playing football, he invites him for a tryout the next day in the capital of Rwanda, Kigali. The tryout is to attend the South Africa 2010 FIFA World Cup as an African youth representative, in 30 days time - 5,000 kms away.
Dudu is a marvellous creation; a grey jacket over his red Fly Emirates T shirt gives the little man the look of an adult, but his enthusiasm and cunning, his unquenchable sense of joy and his constant smile give him the stature of either a brilliant con man or an unstoppable force of nature.
The enormity of their dream is matched by the enormity of the challenge - especially after they start off by taking the wrong bus in the wrong direction. Along the way they are helped or hindered by characters they come across, some of whom join the growing caravan.
The landscape, the music, the football ... it's all pretty irresistible, even if you're not a soccer fan. But don't expect to be let off the hook of Africa's darker reality. One of the first to join the little team is Foreman George, superbly played by Yves Dusenge, a former boy soldier with terrible dark deeds to haunt him.
Another is Beatrice (Sanyu Joanita Kintu), a young woman who escapes from her white sugar daddy - and makes good use of her life experiences.
But the amazing thing is that Gardner-Paterson manages to balance the film's tone so adroitly that the darkest dramatic elements sit comfortably with the lighter material on the surface. The result is a powerful, moving, thought provoking, funny and satisfying film.
Review by Louise Keller:
Football is better than sex, thirteen year old Rwandan football enthusiast Dudu (Ndayambaje) tells us in the opening scenes of this unique, feel-good road movie, as he demonstrates how to make a football from an inflated condom. Dudu's passion is soccer and he is the self-appointed manager and coach for his best friend Fabrice (Nsengiyumva), who has a special talent for the game. When a FIFA talent scout offers Fabrice a chance to try out for the World Cup Opening Ceremony in South Africa, Dudu forms Africa United - the team for the dream.
Like its infectious music and indelible African landscape, the sheer enthusiasm of this upbeat film championing friendship and dreams instantly rubs off, as filmmaker Debs Paterson in her debut feature entices us in an adventure countering harsh reality with fantasy. Fuelled by Dudu's imagination, and against all odds, five youngsters use all their wiles and determination to travel 5,000 km across seven countries.
Serious issues of HIV, child-soldiers and sex-workers are never treated lightly; there's a real sense of danger as the youngsters dodge bullets and wild animals, stowaway under mango-crates, hitch rides in a combo of trucks, boats and trains and befriend a young sex-worker (Silver). But it is Dudu's ripe storytelling amidst imaginary rivers of blood in the search for the ingredients to make a football (inventively portrayed by animated puppetry sequences) that keeps the dream alive and our hearts connected. The idea and execution is reminiscent of the fantasy scenes in Southpark creators' controversial Broadway show, The Book of Mormon. Impossible to know whose idea came first.
The performances of the youngsters are extraordinary and there's something haunting about Ndayambaje's cherubic face with his chipped front tooth, dazzling smile and zest for life. The music deserves special mention, rhythmically propelling us to the finish line and its satisfying emotional conclusion.
First published in the Sun-Herald
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AFRICA UNITED (PG)
(UK/Sth Africa/Rwanda, 2010)
CAST: Eriya Ndayambaj, Roger Nsengiyumva, Sanyu Joanita Kintu, Yves Dusenge, Sherrie Silver, Emmanuel Jal, Presley Chweneyagae, Rapulana Seiphemo, Patrick Mofokeng
PRODUCER: Mark Blainey, Eric Kabera, Jackie Sheppard
DIRECTOR: Debs Gardner-Paterson
SCRIPT: Rhidian Brook
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Sean Bobbitt
EDITOR: Victoria Boydell
MUSIC: Bernie Gardner
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 22, 2012