The Distant Boat is one of those hard-to-review movies mainly because you keep getting too engrossed in it that your objectivity is therefore compromised. Having said that, we will try our best to be very objective and professional.
The Distant Boat tells the story of Max (Kamicha Muchiri), a young man who grew up in rural Kenya with the dream of one day becoming someone better than a ‘field rat’. With his very close friend, Tom (Eric Ndungu), they dream of big jobs, sleek cars and beautiful girlfriends. Years down the road, It appears everything they ever dreamt of and desired for is falling into place until Max makes this business trip to the coast where he has a life-changing encounter with Yusef (Claude Judah), a poor Muslim fisherman.
His value system drastically changes as he realises that God may be calling him to be a missionary. He is stirred up more by his uncle’s (Philip Chege) wisdom hidden in ancient African proverbs. Max finally decides to leave all he ever valued in life for this newly-found ‘treasure’.
As you may imagine, he does not get a part on the back with a hero’s send off as he heads into the nebulous – everyone, including his mother (Joan Arigi) and the love of his life Ruth (Ruth Maingi), resists him. They all think he has gone nuts to ‘throw’ away his destiny for an uncertain, demeaning future with no prospects of ‘the good life’ in sight. His own pastor does not know where to begin with this whole missionary business – they have never thought of it as a church. Max suddenly realises his journey will be one of discovery where trust in a benevolent God in the midst of great peril will be all he will have to hold on.
The Distant Boat, which started filming in 2012 has taken 3 years and US$ 100,000.00, raised from well-wishers, to produce and distribute. 3 years down the line, and a basket-full of film awards, selections and nominations, including winner of the 2014 Mount Dora Film Festival, nominations for Best Supporting Actor at the 2014 Kalasha Film Awards and the ICVMA 2014 Crown Awards, the film is doing well. It was also selected for the 2014 International Christian Film Festival and the 2014 Zanzibar International Film Festival.
The Distant Boat scores very well on almost all our criteria. We loved the spectacular coastal scenery including the famous Gedi ruins where we see Max running for dear life as the beach thugs are in hot pursuit (at least if no one is thinking of a restoration of this historical site, Director Andy Brown has shown us another way we could make the ruins useful). The beautiful sundowners by the beach around a beach fire (another idea) were just something else.
The production has good quality picture and sound that is consistent across the 2 hour footage. The music is authentically Kenyan, good and relevant to the various scenes where it is used – you would not expect Eric Wainaina to get that wrong as the film’s music consultant would you now? The film has a few special effects scenes but they are equally done quite well, especially the flashback and dream scenes.
We were however not too impressed with the child scenes – Yusef’s children did not elicit the kind of emotional mood such scenes, when well-acted, trigger in the audience – they looked more acted than real – especially where Max brings gifts to Yusef’s family as he prepares to head back to the city, the kids do not exhibit that beautifully innocent joy of young hearts who are about to get gifts. Seeing uncle Nzomo in the shamba adorning, perhaps what might be a designer Stetson hat while preparing his land for planting, did strike us as a little odd – we have to admit we have never seen that kind of farmer in Kenya before – but then is it not just acting?
We thought Mr. Malombe (Eddy Kimani) on the other hand was thoroughly entertaining though despite his scenes being ever serious and short. He is the true epitome of an alpha male!
The cast of The Distant Boat reads like the Who-is-Who in the Kenyan acting scene but it also introduces a few new talents who together manage to act out the plot of the Distant Boat in a way that leaves all of us agreeing that they cannot call him whom they have not believed and they cannot believe in him they have not heard unless someone preaches to them.
The Distant Boat might very well be one of those very good quality Kenyan productions to hit the Kenyan big screen this year. Go get yourself a copy – your perspective of what matters in life will never be the same again –
We are trying to see if we can be a distribution point for those who need a copy. Watch out for a Swahili and French version coming out in November 2014 and late 2015 respectively. Here’s the film’s trailer to stir you up.