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Storytelling to save the Delta

Sven Falconer (music composer) Kaya Ensor (co-producer) Michael Ulica (National Geographic Society Interim President) Water Setlabosha, Adjany Costa, Neil Gelinas (Producer) Steve Boyes, Clara Wu (Executive Producer) Geoff Daniels (Executive Producer) PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES
On Sunday, Earth Day, National Geographic’s (NatGeo) Into the Okavango film was premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in New York, US. Staff Writer THALEFANG CHARLES, who has followed the genesis of the film from Angola to Botswana, sat in the front row to witness the premiere and report from New York

NatGeo’s Into the Okavango film combines art, adventure and the power of storytelling in an inspiring endeavour to save the Okavango Delta – the 1,000th UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Recognised as one of the most iconic natural areas on the planet, The Okavango Delta was listed as the 1,000th World Heritage Site at the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee in Doha, Qatar. It joined Ngamiland’s Tsodilo Hills on the World Heritage List. The film is a powerful documentary of a team of world-renowned researchers, scientists, talented photographers, filmmakers, and rivermen exploring the entire river basin of the Okavango from Angola’s highlands.

Into the Okavango follows an inspiring dream of Dr Steve Boyes, a South African researcher with extensive work in the Okavango Delta and project director of NatGeo Okavango Wilderness Project (NGOWP), who has made it his life’s mission to find the causes of the threats to the Okavango Delta’s source waters and to determine how he can protect the river basin before it gets any worse.

After years of leading unique biodiversity surveys of mostly birds across the Okavango Delta using mekoro, Boyes met with a young filmmaker, Neil Gelinas of NatGeo searching for fresh stories in South Africa. Gelinas said he used to have a vague picture of the Okavango Delta before Boyes introduced him to this incredible wilderness. 

The charm of the Okavango that had long cast a spell on Boyes suddenly caught up with Gelinas and they agreed to work on a production that is aimed at saving the Delta for generations to come.

Boyes brought rivermen from the heart of the Okavango Delta, particularly from island settlements of Jao and Seronga to travel to Angola to show them the sources of their water.

Amongst these rivermen was Water Setlabosha, who became one of the leading faces in the film.  Water, as he is famously called was amongst the polers that were luckily chosen by Boyes to travel to Angola - the country that they said they initially were very afraid of - to find out first hand the challenges faced by the sources of their river and as well as to meet their counterpart rivermen.

Boyes also identified a young scientist in Luanda called Adjany Costa to be part of an incredible team of researchers, photographers, filmmakers and storytellers who formed an

ambitious aim of exploring the entire river basin travelling in mekoro. The film shows their challenges when they started their voyage at the heavily mined and remote highlands of Angola. Into the Okavango also provides background stories from a younger and skinny Boyes at his Cape Town’s home, Costa’s war memories in Luanda and Water’s indigenous stories about the river. In an expected NatGeo fashion of telling stories, Into The Okavango shows some stunning cinematography.

There are lots of expansive drone shots that present a bird’s eye view of the striking landscape along the entire Okavango River basin. There are lush and dense miombo forests, the winding channels of the Cuito River, the stomping herds of the buffaloes on the Okavango plains, lechwes sloshing in the shallow waters, a chilling close-up of a monstrous crocodile slithering underwater as well as another underwater shot of an elephant taking a bath.

The film also has some gory scenes of the old Angolan war with dead bodies littering the streets. There are also a number of disheartening images that actually show the urgent need to save the Okavango. 

Most of these include the illegal elephant poaching and the industrial scale irrigation happening in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip.

The film is aimed at highlighting the urgent need to protect the headwaters of the Okavango in Angola.

NGOWP believes that for the Delta to be preserved for future generations, there must be scientific data that should be used to form policy by the countries along the basin.

The premiere was attended by US celebrities, Angolan cabinet ministers and Botswana’s representatives from the UN Consulate. Costa, Water and Steve paraded on the red carpet (their very first international red carpet experience) before the film screening at Tribeca Festival Hub. The Angolan delegation had a joint press conference with NGOWP where the minister of tourism Angela Braganca, applauded the film and promised that Angola is considering entering into an extended agreement.

The film was warmly received at the Tribeca Film Festival with all the shows sold out. NatGeo representatives said the film would later in the year be distributed via some of their global channels.

Producer & Director: Neil Gelinas

Screenwriter: Neil Gelinas, Brian Newell

Music Composer: Sven Faulconer

Executive Producer: Clara Wu

Co-Producer: Kaya Ensor

Cast: Adjany Costa, Steve Boyes, Water Setlabosha

Premiere: 2018 Tribeca Film Festival

Length: 94 minutes

Language: English


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