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Where Are You Taking Me?: movie review

‘Where Are You Taking Me?’ is an observational documentary that lets the images tell the story.

By Peter RainerFilm critic / March 2, 2012

‘Where Are You Taking Me?’ is a documentary that reveals multifaceted portraits of Ugandans in both public and private spaces. The film roams the vibrant city streets and quiet rural villages to reveal a diverse society recovering from brutal civil wars.

Courtesy of Lane Street Pictures

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The marvelous documentary "Where Are You Taking Me?" was originally commissioned by Rotterdam's international film festival in conjunction with a series on African cinema. The Asian-American director, Kimi Takesue, who has an extensive career in documentaries and teaches film at Syracuse University, had never traveled to Africa. Along with 11 other international filmmakers, she and local African filmmakers were given no-strings commissions to make pieces for the festival. It sounds like a documentarian's dream, and from the look of the film, that's just what it was.

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As Takesue has written: "I was particularly excited to participate in this project because my film work often deals with various kinds of cross-cultural encounters. I am interested in the process of 'looking' cross-culturally, and the interplay between the observer and the observed."

This may make the movie sound like some sort of ethnographic field trip, but it's far more lyrical than that. What the film is really about, as Takesue has said elsewhere, is "finding poetic moments in the everyday." The film has no driving agenda, no overbearing story arc.

Since the movie was shot in Uganda in the aftermath of its brutal civil wars, her approach, which dispenses with voice-over narration and even subtitles, may at first seem unconscionably arty. But I think she is right to work in this way. The film doesn't dispense with the horrors of the wars, it just mitigates the pain by finding in the people, the countryside, a revivifying beauty. The movie is both a representation of and a testament to healing.

Takesue's biracial background – she grew up in Hawaii and Massachusetts with an Asian-American father and Caucasian mother – no doubt contributes to her sensitivity to those "cross-cultural encounters." But she has a principled reticence when it comes to recording the Ugandans. She often lets her camera, at a discrete distance from its subject, simply register the human activity in its sights. The film's opening shot, for example, of a busy street corner in Kampala, is a microcosm of Ugandan city life, with motorbikers, women toting children, businessmen, beggars. By holding the shot, as she so often does in this film, Takesue is encouraging audiences to take a deep, long look at things they might otherwise miss.

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