Hamptons International Film Festival selection The Last Safari follows photojournalist Elizabeth L. Gilbert and her crew as she travels through Africa’s Great Rift Valley to bring her photos back to the tribes she photographed years earlier and discovers Africa has changed significantly in a short time.
Gilbert distributes her books to her subjects and puts on screenings of a slideshow that gives tribes a look at themselves and their neighbors. She said many tribespeople had never seen photos of themselves before, and she wanted to give something back to the those that let her document their lives and intimate ceremonies. Many photographers come through Africa to shoot for books, magazines, postcards, etc. and never return to show the tribes what came of their visits, according to Gilbert.
Gilbert’s career in Africa began photographing the Rwandan genocide, and civil war and conflicts in Somalia and Sudan. But she found that her photos were not making a difference, she said at East Hampton Cinema following the film’s premiere Sunday, October 13. “I wanted to leave Africa having pointed my camera at something more beautiful,” she said.
As Gilbert retraces her footsteps through the Great Rift Valley, she encounters old friends and the young men whose education she sponsored when they were boys.
The director and cinematographer who took this journey with Gilbert and her crew is her boyfriend, Matt Goldman. The couple first met on a tarmac in Tanzania while he was shooting a television project. Later, coincidentally, Goldman picked up photography books on Africa. It was not until they re-connected that he realized they were Gilbert’s books. When he learned that she wanted to film her next trip through Africa, he lobbied for the job. It was apparent in The Last Safari that Goldman sometimes regretted this decision during their trip, as they faced a harsh environment and learned that Murphy’s Law is no joke. Gilbert’s resolve was also shaken, as her offering of a complimentary photographic display was not always warmly embraced.
The excited welcome Gilbert receives from some tribes and the indifference or exploitation she gets from others illustrates that East Africa is not a place with a homogenous culture. The Great Rift Valley is often as foreign to her city dwelling Nairobi film crew as it as to Goldman, an American.
Gilbert occasionally finds that men she knew as rural tribespeople have taken to city life, and adherence to tribal traditions is waning.
Most of the film was shot over the course of less than a month in Africa, though there was a subsequent trip—funded with a successful Kickstarter campaign—to shoot a Maasai Warrior graduation ceremony. The stunning images of the ceremony are a highlight of the film.
The Last Safari had its official world premiere at the Hampton International Film Festival, though there was a sneak preview in September during DocUtah at Dixie State University, where the film won Best Cinematography.