Tuesday, December 30, 2014

#1,597. African Safari (1968)

Directed By: Ronald E. Shanin

Starring: Michael Rye

Trivia: This movie was also released as Rivers of Fire and Ice

A Crown International release, 1968’s African Safari is a documentary chronicling the adventures of explorer / photographer Ron Shanin as his treks across Central Africa capturing animals for American zoos, from the cute and cuddly (a chimpanzee and two orphaned leopard cubs are treated like pets) to the downright deadly (his specialty is snakes, and along the way he manages to pick up both an Egyptian cobra and a black mamba). His journey takes him to many exotic regions, where he engages with the locals and, on occasion, even tends to their illnesses. But despite brief stops at some of the most beautiful places on earth (like the Kalambo Falls, a 770-ft waterfall situated on the border of Zambia and Tanzania), Shanin is reminded time and again just how lethal the wilds of Central Africa can be, and that you can never let your guard down for a minute in this fascinating, albeit dangerous corner of the globe.

African Safari was a very personal project for Ron Shanin, whose name is all over this movie (aside from directing, he’s also credited as the writer, producer, editor and cinematographer), and in many ways it reminded me of the True-Life Adventure series produced by Disney throughout the 1950s. As with most documentaries of this ilk, a large amount of time is dedicated to watching animals hunt in the wild, and to be fair, some of the footage is amazing (one sequence, where an African hawk eagle grabs hold of a guinea fowl in mid-flight, is presented in slow-motion and is pretty damn incredible). But the sections of the film I found particularly interesting involved Shanin’s interactions with the indigenous tribes he encountered. Soon after visiting an area where the men chisel their teeth down to points (and man, did the procedure look painful!), he gives a few dozen Pygmy children a ride on the back of his truck, and scores an authentic hand-made spear in the process (which one of the kids trades him in exchange for a piece of red cloth).

To audiences of 1968, African Safari was undoubtedly a unique experience, transporting them to faraway places most would never visit on their own. Nowadays, with entire cable channels dedicated to this sort of thing, Ron Shanin’s adventures may seem a bit routine to some, but the movie has enough going for it to keep viewers engaged, and even provides a thrill or two that are sure to get the adrenaline pumping.

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