Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai Alan Dater & Lisa Merton

Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai Alan Dater & Lisa Merton
Winner of the Audience Award at the 2008 Hot Docs festival in Toronto, Taking Root reportedly received a standing ovation after its screening, igniting a sense of hope via environmental consciousness and the presentation of a likable figure whose lifelong battle made a difference. The figure, Wangari Maathai, is the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Kenyan environmentalist who started the Greenbelt Movement, which essentially taught impoverished women to plant trees and grow crops for nutrition and personal sustainability. Maathai is an inspiration, speaking with a lucidity and sincerity about the political climate in Kenya and the importance of education as a means of social progression, rather than offering handouts. Her influence and teachings permeate the documentary, as interviews with women involved in the Greenbelt Movement show a culture empowered with knowledge and self-determination. The documentary covers both these battles against a corrupt government and deforestation, along with a brief history of Kenya, leading up to current events, from British Colonization to corrupt presidencies. What the documentary doesn't show is any perspective contrary to that of Maathai's, leaving the film to exist within a vacuum of a singular voice. Some contrary opinions may have heightened the urgency of Maathai's struggles, as the audience could then identify with the very forces that the Nobel Laureate was confronting. In addition, while the documentary is sweet and inspirational, in a Sunday afternoon TVO presentation sort of way, there is nothing particularly cinematic about it. It is a competently assembled diary of facts that would have been equally effective in essay form, which makes it ideal for high school classrooms but questionable as an artistic endeavour. This may not be the point, however, as the documentary seems entirely satisfied in its limited aim of pointing out what a galvanizing force Wangari Maathai is, which is a sweet and simple message as it stands. The DVD includes no supplemental material. (Mongrel Media)