40 years ago, Colin Turnbull gained widespread recognition as the author of “The Mountain People,” an eye-opening book about a little-known tribe living in a remote region of Northern Uganda near the country’s border with Kenya. His damning ethnological study indicted the Ik as selfish, loveless, sadistic monsters who bred indiscriminately, never sang, deserted their elders, laughed at each other’s misfortunes, and even fed their offspring to wild animals.
Because Turnbull was the only Westerner who had studied these ostensibly-depraved natives in depth, no one was really in a position to question the veracity of the British anthropologist’s shocking findings. At least, until recently, when Cevin Soling decided to conduct his own research to determine whether the horrifying accounts of barbarism he had read in the 7th grade were really accurate.
So, he assembled an intrepid film crew before embarking on a perilous trek across some very dangerous terrain marked by civil war and inaccessible by automobile in search of the selfsame natives Turnbull had dubbed the worst people in the world. The upshot of that herculean effort is Ikland, a redemptive documentary which sets the record straight about the much-maligned tribe.
For, as it turns out, lo and behold, the Ik are a civilized and perfectly-polite clan, who love their neighbors, the elderly, as well as their young, judging by all the suckling babes being fed by bare-breasted, pipe-smoking women in front of huts. Soling, who not only directed but narrates the film, also interviews a few village elders about what they remember of the visit decades ago by a Brit detractor who might have had an agenda.
Because the Ik are so normal, what makes the picture fascinating is the filmmaker’s taxing ordeal trying to reach them. The ending soon after his arrival is almost anticlimactic, since the subjects are fairly ordinary folks, judging by African standards.
A caravan to the middle of nowhere proving it’s still the same all over, good people everywhere you go.
Excellent (3.5 stars)
In English, Ik, Swahili, Karamojong and Dodoth with subtitles
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio: Spectacle Films
Distributor: Quad Cinema