When Elephants Fight


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

When Elephants Fight
"Almost everywhere in this documentary less would be more."

The list of Western documentaries made in and about the Congo increases with every passing year, a fact that several of the contributors to this latest film by Michael Ramsdell allude to. As one of them puts it, "The world is watching - and no one is acting", while another seems resigned to the fact that a steady stream of film crews seem to come and grow while nothing changes on the ground.

His film - which takes its title from a Congolese proverb, "When elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers" - examines the ongoing problems of governmental corruption, rebel fighting and multinational exploitation of the country's national resources. What is different about Ramsdell's documentary is the way that he turns the focus of his film outwards from Congo itself to examine the West's culpability for the situation the local populace find themselves in. He wants everyone who has a mobile phone in their pocket or a laptop at home to know that the key components for that come from the African country and are, in themselves, key components of the ongoing bloodshed in the country.

Copy picture

Encouraging consumers to put pressure on manufacturers to do more is no bad thing but Ramsdell tries to cram in so much - from the various militia groups and their victims (the former, mostly men, the latter, mainly women and children) to the mining corporations and the way in which conflict minerals are 'laundered' through Rwanda - that it's hard to take everything in. Like the Congo itself, the film suffers from too much in the way of 'riches', meaning that it lacks focus overall. The problems are exemplified by a sequence in which Ramsdell shows how the minerals are taken across the border and passed off as Rwandan goods. In it, he uses split-screen, which is both unnecessary and confusing, and races through the sequences as though his life depends on it. Robin Wright provides patient narration but the insistent scoring from Steve Jablonksy is laid on far too thick.

Almost everywhere in this documentary less would be more. Its argument would also have been strengthened by holding manufacturers and mining more to account. They may well have declined to comment, but this should be made clear. Ramsdell certainly has a nose for a story and many of his underlying arguments, such as our indifference paving the way for terrorism, are compelling, if only he would zoom in on them more. Hopefully on future projects he'll have some help in the editing suite, so that he can pare his footage and stylistic tics back to let his argument shine more brightly.

Reviewed on: 18 Jun 2015
Share this with others on...
Examining the West's ties to conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic Of Congo.

Director: Michael Ramsdell

Writer: Michael Ramsdell

Starring: Robin Wright

Year: 2015

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US, Bermuda, Congo, Rwanda, Canada


EIFF 2015

Search database:

If you like this, try: