Ikland – Movie Review

A remarkable work of indie craftsmanship. The forgotten people who point the way to the forgotten side of the Western world.

Welcome to Ikland, the world of the Ik. The Ik of Northern Uganda were studied twice; the first time by prestigious British anthropologist ColinTurnbull and the second time was by film makers David Hilbert, Cevin D. Soling and the rest of their merry crew. Hilbert is the director and editor “Ikland”, which documents Cevin Soling’s trip to northern Uganda to rediscover the lost tribe.

Actually, they were not so much lost, as ignored. In the seventh grade, Soling’s junior high school class was given a reading assignment on the Iks. The assignment was based on Turnbull’s accounts that described them in terms so horrendous as to be fantastic. They defecated on their neighbors’ doorsteps, abandoned their young and ran from their old, leaving them to die. The children were forced to stalk the elderly of the tribe and steal food from them in order to survive.

The Ik were feared and hated by the tribes around them. They raided and stole from their neighbors and never laughed or even smiled. They procreated as a matter of routine course, without love or feeling of any kind. They never gave anything away and when they did, it was only to trick or otherwise force the receiver to give back more than they had received. They would wait for hours, spying on others, only to watch them in possible misfortune. When they were lucky enough to witness others’ bad fortune, only, then, would they laugh.

Many years later, when Soling showed the remarkable report to others, the general response was that it was so extreme and apparently without foundation that it had to be a joke. This did nothing but fuel the filmmaker’s curiosity. Heading up-country into northern Uganda to make this film was like heading upriver to find Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now,” only worse. “Apocalypse” was a story, this was a country of real psychosis, with Idi Amin leading the pack. Today, the northern rebels are in a constant state of war and are known to kill for the fun of it.

In directing and editing this film, Hilbert is able to bring to life his steadfast belief and adherence to the world of dreams. The film is a dream world brought to real life, a modern day “Gulliver’s Travels.” The beauty of the film dawns on the viewer as the observers somehow switch places with the observed. Approaching the Ik with the classic academic intent of objectifying them, we are gradually objectified. They become the teachers and we become the students. They are the leaders and we are the followers.

The climax is a play proposed by the film crew to the Ik villagers. They propose that the villagers act out Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The Iks agreed, it must have sounded like fun to them. Regardless of how well the actual play came off, Hilbert and Soling have captured the gist with perfection. The Ik seem to have a total grasp of the significance of the story and of the redemption of Scrooge after the visitation of the Ghost. However, the most amazing thing about the play is not that the Iks seemed to figure it out. The Iks present the play as if it is crucially important for us to hear it. Perhaps it is, but that is not usually the reason anthropologists visit isolated tribes in brutal, isolated far-flung corners of the world.

In director Hilbert’s world, objectivity is a myth. This film is a funny and surgically precise lesson in exactly that. As we try to find the truth about the human race in ancient tribes, they show us that the truth about ourselves. After all, it was the Western world that sacked Uganda for all it had, and paved the way for the despots who murdered millions. In the end, the nature of the Iks is revealed. Only by pretending to elevate ourselves amongst others do we somehow summon up the courage to see what we really are.

Filmed by lenser David Pluth, the only cameraman willing to travel up country for the project, the film is filled with funny stories about teenage guerrilla armed with machine guns. The animal world consists of tigers that avoid eating humans, until they have consumed their first one (we are high in sodium and taste like potato chips), and elephants that have a collective memory of poaching. Even though Pluth suffered through a knee replacement necessitated by an elephant attack he kept the reels a’turnin.”

Hilbert is currently producing the short “Hunters and Gatherers” about humans and their ideals and “Nowhere Men” a narrative of catharsis and discovery. Keep an eye out for more documentaries, and commentaries, by this group.

Directed by: David Hilbert, Cevin D. Soling
Written by: Cevin D. Soling
Featuring: Loritong Mawitini Dakai, Fabiano Kyonga and Paul Lokai
Release Date: June 15, 2012
MPAA: Not Rated
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Country: USA / Uganda
Language: English
Color: Color