Review: Thank You for the Rain at the Transitions Film Festival22 February 2018
Thank You for the Rain tells the story of a planet in crisis through one Kenyan farmer. Partially filmed by Kisilu, the activist/farmer at the documentary’s centre, and his family (beware occasionally intense shaky-cam) it is a timely and unguarded meditation on disempowerment and hope. As a mostly unpretentious documentation of the human and environmental impacts of climate change, the film oozes that often hollowly over-used buzzword, ‘intersectionality.’ Issues of class, race, wealth, and geopolitics are woven into almost every scene.
In the earlier minutes of the film, I found myself uncomfortably anticipating the white Norwegian director’s treatment of her subject matter. Perhaps I’m overly suspicious, but a young white filmmaker choosing to travel to rural Kenya to document communities affected by climate change struck me as code for a potentially patronising, infantilising sob story about those poor, helpless Africans. And to some extent, my fears were well-founded.
Julia Duhr, the director, is very much a character in her own film, and her privileged background is often painfully evident. When Kisilu travels with Duhr to Norway to speak at a climate conference, the stark inequity between their two worlds is poignantly illustrated – Kisilu films rows and rows of soft drinks and bread in Norwegian supermarkets, whereas back home, Duhr documents how his family struggles to afford daily meals of bread.
What is interesting about Duhr’s film is that she is upfront about her social privilege and active role in the story. Her narration, although sometimes intrusive, is reflexive and honest, and gently invites the audience to examine their own privileges and impact on the world. It’s clear that she and Kisilu share a certain starry-eyed wonder, particularly a captivation with natural landscapes and the strength of the communities that rely on their resources, and the way this impacts their cinematography makes Thank You for the Rain a beautifully shot film. But although it tracks Kisilu and his community’s growing resourcefulness, it is not optimistic. Despite closing with both Kisilu’s return to Kenya after lobbying and speaking at the UN’s annual climate conference, and the eventual flourishing of his region’s community tree-planting actions, the issues of privilege remain uncomfortably, poignantly, frustratingly unresolved.
From its focus on the inequality between individuals to the broader inaction and disinterest of the world’s most privileged governments, Thank You for the Rain is compelling and inspirational, but somehow also left me with an overwhelming sense of despondency. It doesn’t give any answers, but is a timely and stunning film that tells an urgent story.
Thank You for the Rain is showing as part of the Transitions Film Festival from 22 February—9 March at Cinema Nova, Carlton.