April 23

James Tembo, Detective – A Perspective on Zambia

A few weeks ago, I wrote a review for the movie The Great Debaters. In response, I was contacted by Kevin Hansston to look at a film called James Tembo, Detective. I ordered a copy off their site that night(http://www.jamestembo.com) and received it a couple of days ago. While many might have asked for a review copy, I did not want to have any idea that I might have been writing a "for hire" review.

The film is a re-imagining of the Resurrection story in modern Zambia. In the story, a prophet named Joseph has been killed by the religious leaders, who hire a mercenary "detective" named James Tembo. His job is to find the body, or at least write a report that glosses it over.

If you are looking for a slick Hollywood film with professional acting, this is not your vehicle. The production values are a bit low, as most of the film has been shot with a small video camera inside local establishments with very obvious lights. The camera work is occasionally shaky, especially in the opening sequence, and there is often rather loud ambient sound (bar patrons). In many ways, it is like a public access program with a better story line and better music. It is not the greatest movie as far as editing, and the script has points where you have to catch up with the plot twists. We now have the bad out of the way, so I can talk about random thoughts on the film. πŸ™‚

Regardless of the acting, sound, lighting and script, I still found myself intrigued. A bit of my history might reveal why this statement is "profound". I have a degree in film and video and generally pay attention to all aspects of a film. If a film breaks the curtain, I am generally all over it. My wife has asked me to stop predicting the end of films, as most films use the standard three act model perfected by Syd Field. This film should have been a fertile ground for criticism, but I found myself going deeper instead.

Perhaps it is the rawness that had me looking for shining moments rather than tearing the film apart. It may also be a change in perspective due to my own adversity (Miranda’s battle with cancer). I am not sure. Either way, the values that would usually have me heavily criticizing had me compelled.

One thing that is interesting to see the differences in the salvation message. I am not sure whether these differences are completely cultural or at least partially due to the views of the missionaries involved. Either way, a Christian who is looking deeper at the film can learn some new information about how God works. There is something refreshing in a simplistic display of the message, especially one presented so genuinely (unlike our kabuki theater style presentations on Christian television in the United States).

I also found the film and interesting way to view another culture. In the bar scenes, there are signs with numbers like 16000 on the beer bottles. These are prices; It will cost you 16000 Zambia Kwacha to get a beer, or about $4.50 US, with the current rate of exchange. At the time the film was shot, the exchange rate was about 30000 to 1 (currently around 3500 to 1), which would mean 45 cents for a beer, in US dollars. As most things are negotiable in Zambia, the price is not necessarily what you would actually pay.

One of the reasons I was intrigued with the prices was a blog entry Scott Hanselman posted on Zimbabwe (Scott’s wife is from Zimbabwe). Zambia is just north of Zimbabwe and experiencing the same type of runaway inflation as Zimbabwe, only to a far lesser extent. Zambia is one of the countries the refugees from Zimbabwe are fleeing to. As you watch the film, you see both something modern (clothing) and something very old. You also see the ravages of poverty in the few scenes shot around the city.

The filmmakers hope that this film will help raise money for Zambia, or more precisely to aid their country. The film is being sold exclusively through the site. I am not sure they will reach this goal, at least not through human means.

Who is the best audience for this film? I can see two groups:

  1. Christians who wish to see a different perspective on the gospel message.
  2. Anyone interested in seeing life in Zambia, as revealed through the background of the film.

I must say this is the first film I have ever viewed from Zambia, much less anywhere in Africa other than South Africa. We simply do not see many films from this region in our video shelves. It is possibly this fact that explains why we know so little of the poverty that wracks this part of the world.

Peace and Grace,