'The Hadza: Last of the First': Film Review

Courtesy of Benenson Productions
This fascinating documentary sheds light on an indigenous people whose way of life is increasingly threatened

Bill Benenson's documentary profiles East Africa's last remaining true hunter-gatherers

It's doubtful you've heard of them, but the Hadza people of northern Tanzania are the last people on earth to subsist entirely on hunting and gathering. Their numbers are rapidly diminishing—only about 1,000 remain—and their land is increasingly becoming encroached by other tribes and various other forces. Their plight, and their indomitable spirit, is chronicled in Bill Benenson's affecting anthropological documentary The Hadza: Last of the First.

The film which seems destined for prominent exposure on the National Geographic Channel provides an up close and personal look at the Hadza's daily existence which depends on no agricultural resources at all. The men hunt animals with bows and arrows, unafraid of lions but rather of elephants, the only animal they refuse to kill. Much of their diet consists of tubers and berries, and honey that is dangerously harvested from African killer bees.

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Although the film features the usual variety of talking heads—including Jane Goodall, the late Peter Matthiessen and numerous experts in such fields as anthropology, evolutionary biology, genetics and linguistics—its most powerful sections chronicle the day-to-day lives of its subjects whose first documented encounter with outsiders was in 1915. Children play with mud dolls and miniature bows and arrows; young people engage in courtship rituals in which the mothers play a prominent role; the tribespeople are seen exuberantly singing and dancing; and several Hadza describe their conflicts with other tribes, especially the Datoga, who increasingly intrude on their land.

Narrated by Alfre Woodard, the film falters at times, such as with its crudely rendered animated segments depicting the Hadza's belief that they're descended from baboons and various other legends. And the endless commentary proves wearisome, with the exception of photogenic anthropologist Alyssa Crittenden, whose close ties with the Hadza is on ample, heartwarming display.

But it's a nonetheless fascinating portrait of a little-known people who have lived on their land for over 50,000 years. And besides, what other documentary can boast an Oscar-winning actress, Lupita Nyongo'o, as its "Swahili Consultant?"

Production: Benenson Productions, Firestick Productions
Director: Bill Benenson
Producers: Bill Benenson, Laurie Benenson
Executive producer: Garry Spire
Director of photography: Robert Poole
Editor: Alexandra Komisaruk
Composer: Charles Newman

Narrator: Alfre Woodard

No rating, 71 min

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