The Other Side Of The Country

The Other Side Of The Country


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

I look forward to a year when I do not find myself reviewing yet another documentary about the disenfranchised people of Africa and the blindness of us in the West to their problems – many of which we not only helped to create but also maintain. This year, unfortunately, won’t be it. So far I’ve seen devastating documentaries about genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan (The Devil Came On Horseback), the plight of raped women in Congo (Lumo) and the struggle to make a difference politically in Nigeria (Suffering And Smiling).

Add to this tally, then, yet another excellently shot and alarming document of troubled times in Africa, this time about those in the north of Uganda – left reeling from 20 years of civil war. Since 1987 a group of rebels, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) - who are also wreaking havoc in parts of Sudan - have been waging a guerilla war against the Ugandan government, although their agenda is worryingly unclear.

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Their modus operandii is to ransack towns and villages, taking large groups of children hostage so that they can be indoctrinated and trained as soldiers or used as human shields. One girl walks six miles each evening to sleep at a children’s shelter where she knows she will be safe but others - who have lost their parents to the militia - are now living on street corners. Many parents, meanwhile, live with uncertainty - unable to discover whether a child who has been kidnapped from them is alive or dead.

The problems are not just limited to the warring faction, however, since Catherine Herbert’s complex documentary goes on to suggest that the Ugandan government - and their international backers - bear a heavy responsibility for the plight of the people in the northern half of the country. Those living south of the river Nile, towards the capital, live comparatively free from fear, protected from militia, while those in the north face constant problems - many thrust on them by their own government. Living conditions for many, for example, have become virtually intolerable since the government forced its own people into “internally displaced person” camps, claiming it is for their own safety.

The testimony of those who live there, however, tells a different story, as person after person recounts the problems they have just to put food on the table, the fact that the camps make them virtual sitting ducks for the LRA and that despite the increasing amount allegedly being spent on defence the situation is worse now than ever. “They have crammed us in like animals,” says one.

The picture painted is bleak. How can you muster up hope for the future when fighting continues despite your leaders tellng you the rebel “problem is really finished"? This is a call for the West to sit up and take notice. Herbert has gathered together an impressive amount of testimony, which outlines the problems from a personal level. The only thing which, perhaps, is missing, is an indication of what, if anything, international agencies are doing to help the country. There is reference to aid programmes but only asides to the wider geo-politics, although, by implication, this may simply mean that there is virtually no notice being taken by the rest of the world to the northern Ugandan’s situation.

Herbert’s film is detailed and explains the complex situation well, drawing on testimony from those suffering in camps, orphaned children, teachers, parents and former abductees and lacing it through with radio interviews clearly showing the government’s indifference. It is sure to have a life at festivals across the globe where it will, hopefully, spread the word about this ongoing human tragedy, since the indications are that the country’s Museveni government is becoming increasingly corrupt.

Reviewed on: 26 Aug 2007
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Investigating the effects of 20 years of civil war on the citizens of nothern Uganda.
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Director: Catherine Hébert

Year: 2007

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: Canada


EIFF 2007

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If you like this, try:

The Devil Came On Horseback