Between The Rains


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Between The Rains
"There’s a lack of depth in general." | Photo: Courtesy of Sheffield DocFest

“Nature is a vindictive beast. The only thing worthy of fear.”

This is the viewpoint of the Kenyan Turkana-Ngaremara community, now seemingly much less nomadic than their ancestors and more subject to the mercurial changes in climate as a result.

This film - which represents the directorial debut of both Andrew H Brown (who previously produced Kenya poaching documentary When Lambs Become Lions) and Kenyan Moses Thurarnira, zeroes in on life in the community from the perspective of young shepherd Kole. Although this choice offers some dividends, not least a sympathetic lens through which to view both the climate crisis and a personal coming of age, it also proves to be quite narrow across the course of the film.

Like many young people the world over, Kole is less than fully enamoured with his lot. Labelled “the boy who was born among the goats”, it is clear from his community he is expected to fulfil a lifelong shepherd role, whether it appeals or not. Being a “warrior” is important here, not least because of the regular skirmishes over animals and land between the Turkana and the neighbouring Samburu community. Although we will hear gun battles and radio reports of the human toll of the fighting, the camera mostly lstays tight within the Turkana, which feels like an opportunity missed.

There’s a lack of depth in general. Another intriguing character is Josephine, who is described as a Turkana Peacemaker and is frequently seen trying to maintain a fragile calm between the two communities. How she came to this role or what her motivations are for continuing with it despite the stress are never discussed.

The film - which won the best documentary award at Tribeca Film Festival - fares much better in outlining experience of Kole, who is allowed to voice his feelings throughout. We see, and hear, the expectations placed upon him, not least by his older brother Patrick. Early in the film he is instructed to “act like a man” by his ailing gran and later there’s an emphasis on him moving quickly away from childhood. “You’re either the predator or the prey,” Patrick tells his younger brother.

This idea is seized by the directors who sometimes use it to unnecessarily push certain emotions on to the audience. For example, when Kole embarks on the tooth removal ritual that signifies a move away from childhood. In a toe-curling sequence, we see this is a pretty brutal affair, especially if the coming-of-ager isn’t keen on the idea and, to make matters more squeamish, appears to be done with a spoon. Kole’s emotions hardly need reinforcement and yet the directors choose to cut immediately to a zebra carcass being scavenged by hyenas and then a baby goat, vulnerable and unsteady on its feet. Those sensitive to the death of animals should note that several goats are also killed on camera through the course of the film.

Questions are also raised by a moment in which drugs are apparently taken but which goes both unexplained and unexplored. As a melancholy testimony to one young man’s experience, this succeeds but despite all the beautiful landscape cinematography there’s a constant frustrating sense of not quite being able to see the bigger social picture.

Reviewed on: 28 Jun 2023
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A coming-of-age documentary following a young member of a formerly nomadic northern Kenyan community as they deal with the environmental and psychological effects of climate change.

Director: Andrew H Brown, Moses Thuranira

Year: 2023

Runtime: 81 minutes

Country: Kenya

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