'Leaving Africa': Film Review

Guerilla Films
This affecting documentary puts a humanastic spin on its sociological message.

Iiris Harma's documentary profiles two very different female friends working together to provide sex education in Uganda.

A touching real-life friendship is at the core of Iiris Harma's documentary about two women of very different backgrounds who have banded together to deliver sex education to Uganda, a country where it is sorely needed. A compelling social drama with unlikely comic touches, Leaving Africa puts a welcome humanistic spin on its important message. The film recently won the Filmmaking Award at NYC's Margaret Mead Film Festival.

Its central figures are Ritta, a 66-year-old Finnish doctor who has been in Uganda for over a quarter-century, and Catherine, or Kata, a 63-year-old Ugandan woman with whom she shares a cottage. Together, the two women run COFCAWE, an organization devoted to providing sex education to local villages, with an emphasis on gender equality in a country dominated by men.

"Uganda is full of challenges … sometimes I feel, too full," comments Ritta, who decries the country's "gender-based poverty."

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The film alternates between scenes depicting the women conducting their seminars in front of audiences composed of religious leaders, couples and young people, and more personal segments concentrating on their distinctive personalities. Ritta, unhappy about her pending forced retirement, is a stern, no-nonsense type who has never had children, while Kata is an ebullient seize-the-moment type, seen several times dancing by herself on the couple's porch. A divorcee with a slew of children and grandchildren, Kata has had more than her share of hardships in life, including being raped by an uncle when she was 9 years old.

The film's chief dramatic element revolves around an anonymous letter sent to the Ugandan Parliament, accusing the two women of being lesbians and of promoting a homosexual agenda. Their work permits revoked, Ritta and Kata have to struggle to restore their organization's standing in the country.

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Combining its important sociological message with compelling human drama, Leaving Africa offers a deeply personal view of Uganda's continuing policy of sexual oppression directed toward women and homosexuals. 

Production: Guerilla Films
Director: Iiris Harma
Producer/director of photography: Visa Koiso-Kanttila
Editor: Niels Pagh Andersen
Composer: Marcel Vaid

Not rated, 84 minutes

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