If Bob Geldof had never seen news footage of the horrific famine in Ethiopia back in the mid-'80s, he might have carried on in relative obscurity, making so-so records with his band the Boomtown Rats. But see it he did, which led to Band Aid (and "Do They Know It's Christmas"), Live Aid, Live 8, knighthood, and now Geldof in Africa, a profound, provocative, beautifully made six-part series that aired in 2005 on Britain's BBC. Sir Bob, who narrates both on and offscreen, visited many parts of what he calls "the Luminous Continent" (as opposed to the "Dark Continent" moniker that was ironically bestowed on Africa by Europeans whose own countries were often gray and grim), including Somaliland, a sort of non-country whose very existence isn't acknowledged by any other nation; Ghana, from which slaves were once shipped to America and elsewhere; the Congo, the true heart of darkness, which still bears the ugly scars of Belgian colonization; the Sahara desert, where "you discover the absolute insignificance of you"; Uganda, where a brutal "rebel leader" abducts children and turns them into sex slaves and soldiers; and Ethiopia, where it all started for Geldof (and where conditions are actually improving).
But Geldof and producer-director John Maguire's film is not a travelogue. Nor is it a scientific documentary, although we learn something about geography, anthropology, meteorology, geology, agriculture, history, religion, and, inevitably, politics. What distinguishes Geldof in Africa is the presence of Geldof himself. An excellent writer and articulate speaker, he brings a decidedly subjective point of view to the work. "I can't do slick television," he admits; neither cynical nor naïve, he says exactly what he thinks, and expresses his wonder, fascination, rage, grief, sympathy, blame, and hope with a quiet passion that compels the viewer to feel those things as well. The camera work is flawless throughout, with shot after shot of breathtaking beauty, and Pete Briquette's music provides graceful accompaniment. Extras include audio commentary by Geldof and Maguire, deleted scenes, photos, and a Geldof interview. --Sam Graham
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