Safari (2016)

Safari
Director: Ulrich Seidl
Writer: Ulrich Seidl, Veronika Franz
Seen on: 19.9.2016

“Plot”:
A private game reserve in Namibia run by a German couple. They have mostly guests from the German-speaking part of Europe who come to Africa to hunt and collect trophies. Going on Safari in the original sense: armed with guns and eager to kill.

Safari is not Seidl’s best documentary, but it is a provocative and very revealing look at colonial structures that are alive and well today without so much as the slightest veneer of post-colonialism. Unfortunately, by centering the experiences the white people have and by almost entirely excluding black people from his documentary, Seidl does reinforce the very same structures he so pointedly lays open.

safari

Seidl has a very distinct style in his documentaries, interspersing tableaus every once in a while where he sets people in scene as if they were posing for a portrait. It’s only in these tableaus that we actually get to focus on black people, but they remain voiceless and don’t get to say anything. In all other scenes they get to work for the white people, but they still don’t get their own agency or opinion.

Coupled with the fact that the movie itself never mentions where in Africa we actually are, making the backdrop a monolithic (sub-Saharan) Africa as if such “details” didn’t matter, and the film’s own (post-)colonialism became obvious.

safari1But when the film turned to the white people – and they are its concern – it quickly hits pay dirt. There are the arguments about why people travel halfway around the world and pay many thousand euros just to kill animals they never even see other than through the lens of their guns – and those arguments are mostly so weak that one really has to wonder if people really believe that crap or if they just think it’s the social acceptable way to argue (the animals are sick! if we didn’t shoot them, there would be too many of them! it’s for their own good! … That may be true in a European forest since we have all but eradicated all natural enemies, but it’s not true for that kind of hunting in a private game reserve). There’s the blatant racism that is so entrenched in the whites as “simple facts” they don’t even realize how racist they are. And the general colonialism that is apparent in every frame of the film.

Thus, Safari does manage to hit home with its criticism, despite its weaknesses. But I do wish there had been two films: this one, focussing on the whites, and another one to accompany it, shot from the black perspective on those safaris. That would have been a fascinating perspective to get.

safari2Summarizing: worth seeing, but only if you can stomach a certain amount of animal death.

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