Director: Stephanie Black
Producer: Stephanie Black
Featuring: Danny Glover, Ziggy Marley, Damien Marley, Stephen Marley, Lauren Hill, Bob Marley
Duration: 99 min
BBFC Certification: Exempt
Africa Unite is a documentary framed around the celebrations of what would be Bob Marley's 60th birthday and focusing on his vision of a united Africa. Several big-name stars and world-class reggae acts, as well as three generations of the Marley family came together in Ethiopia in 2005 to put on an epic 12-hour concert attended by over 300,000 people as well as take part in debates and seminars intent on bringing about African unity. Ethiopia was particularly important to Bob Marley due to it's relevance to the Rastafari movement, being the home of Haile Selassie I, who is considered the second coming of God to many Rastafarians. He was also the regent and emperor of Ethiopia for several decades, bringing independence to the nation during the early 20th century when Europe had a stranglehold over the continent.
The film is very clear and blunt in it's message that the best way towards solving Africa's problems is to unite as one. It's not an explorative documentary that looks at the pros and cons or even lingers on the continent's tragedies. Instead it's a vibrant, uplifting look at how Africa can come together in a united celebration. A cynic could call it a mild form of propaganda, but when the simple basis of it's message is so universally positive and it's presented so passionately, it's hard not to get caught up in it all.
From a technical standpoint, it's not a particularly impressive documentary. It's shot very basically and cheaply and the sound mix is a bit murky (away from the concert which sounds fine). A lack of graphics (even name bars) and other such polish suggests a low budget too. This of course is no means for harsh criticism, although it has a meandering structure that caused me to lose interest from time to time. Intercutting the core documentary footage with the concert footage works in it's favour though, giving the film a clear spine as well as invigorating the joyful vibe the film is aiming for. The concert scenes are great, giving a wonderful sense the of positive atmosphere of the day and will help the film become more accessible a wider audience, especially those not generally interested in the film's political stance.
The documentary elements are generally quite effective too, with several of the speeches and debates proving quite powerful. Danny Glover in particular makes a great orator. There is some interesting backstory into the history of Ethiopia and Haile Selassie too, although I felt a lot of this was held back till a little too late in the film. Not knowing much about the man or the country I was a little lost during the first half and didn't fully appreciate their importance for a while. I could have done with a little more of it in general actually, as it felt to have only skimmed the surface. I guess because the film is juggling so many balls with the concert, the visitors and the conferences it was hard to fit in too much history along the way.
It's no masterpiece as a whole and won't incite as much debate or controversy as many politically themed documentaries, but as a celebration of Bob Marley's beliefs through music and a show of support it is undoubtably effective. A word of warning though, anyone looking to watch this film to learn more about Bob Marley himself will be disappointed. The focus is primarily on his vision for a united Africa. We learn more about Haile Selassie and Ethiopia than about Marley himself, although his great music becomes a bridge between the nations and through that his presence is truly felt.
Africa Unite is released on DVD by Network Releasing in the UK on 22nd August. It contains no special features. The picture and sound quality aren't particularly impressive, although this is likely to be due to the nature of the source material so didn't bother me.