Pushing The Elephant

Pushing The Elephant


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Ever since the 1998 civil war decimated the population of the Democratic Republic of Congo, there has been a steady stream of documentaries charting the atrocities in the country, which left five million dead and three million displaced. Lumo told the story of the women so badly injured by rape that they are ostracised from their community and require medical operations to be able to restore their health, while Congo In Four Acts detailed everything from crushing poverty to rape as a tool of war to the toxic side-effects of the country's mines.

Pushing The Elephant picks up the story of one Banyamulenge (Congolese Tutsi), who fled the genocide with nine of her 10 children to the US after escaping by luck from one of the death camps. Rose Mapendo and her brood resettled in Phoenix, Arizona, and when we catch up with her, 12 years later, she has finally managed to locate her missing daughter, Nangbire - now living in Kenya - and is about to be reunited with her for the first time.

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This is a story of endurance, faith and of Rose's stoic belief that it is possible for peace and reconcilliation to come to her homeland. Beth Davenport and Elizabeth Mandel chart the story of Rose as she pushes for worldwide help for other refugees. Pushing The Elephant is her analogy - one person can't make the elephant move alone, but if enough people push it, eventually it will shift. In tandem, cameras follow Nangbire as she gets to know her family - half of whom she has never even met - and struggles with what she has suffered in the past and with the challenges of living in a foreign country, while also charting Rose's journey back to Congo to try to make a difference.

The film is at its strongest when it uses simple images - the sight of kite twisting in the wind as Rose talks about the need for forgiveness, or the playful companionship between Nangbire and her elder brother as she tries to write an email to a boy she likes back in Kenya. Some of the camerawork at the point of the reunion between Rose and Nangbire feels a bit too intrusive and can perhaps be put down to the over-exuberance of these first-time directors. But this is a small criticism of what is both a celebration of family bonds and good neighbourliness and a look at the problems which still need to be addressed in Congo today. Pertinent without being overtly political, Pushing The Elephant moves along the documentary story of the Congo, one which we can all only hope will ultimately have a happy ending.

Reviewed on: 01 Apr 2011
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A mother is reunited with the daughter 12 years after she was separated from her during the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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Director: Beth Davenport, Elizabeth Mandel

Year: 2010

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: US


Human Rights 2011

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If you like this, try:

Children Of The Congo