Ed Pettitt, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Ghanzi district, shared a short video clip on my Facebook timeline last week Tuesday. It was a teaser for a documentary film aimed to portray the challenges and successes of the San from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) post relocation. He has been working on the film as a producer with the young but accomplished director/producer Daniel Koehler, who is currently in Botswana as a researcher with the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship. Looking for Life is destined to become the most anticipated documentary film to come out of Africa this year. Fortunately, both men agreed to let me in on their amazing film project, which they promise will be available for the world to see by early 2016.
Koehler has worked on a couple of other productions prior to Looking for Life but says this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “A friend introduced me to the Fulbright-National Geographic Fellowship a month before the submission deadline. I was visiting him and a couple other friends, and they all agreed: ‘This sounds tailor-made for you.’ They were right. I was itching to start another project and loved the idea of partnering with National Geographic, my childhood dream job,” said a keen Koehler.
After Koehler was selected as one of five grantees from 864 applicants for the inaugural year of the fellowship, the United States Embassy in Botswana connected him with Pettitt. “I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in New Xade for two years, I speak the local languages, and I’m well connected in the village ÔÇô traits that I’ve been able to use to assist Daniel with producing this film and getting the appropriate buy-in from community members and decision-makers,” said Pettitt.
The primary characters in the documentary are two young San men, both 21 years of age: Ketelelo Moapare and Kitsiso Gakelekgolelwe. They were born inside the CKGR, in the villages of Mothomelo and Metsiamanong, respectively. Moapare is an orphan and he was raised by his grandmother. In 1997, Moapare and his grandmother were relocated to New Xade, where Moapare spent most of his childhood. Gakelekgolelwe’s father on the other hand refused to relocate from the reserve so he grew up in Metsiamanong except for the bit of schooling in New Xade and Ghanzi.
Looking for Life seeks to address the restless search for identity that characterises many San youth. For Moapare, that search manifests itself in a quest for knowledge. From an early age, he realised he wanted to avoid the cloud of confusion hanging over his people since relocation. The past of hunting and gathering was not his future he decided, and education was an opportunity to reinvent himself and his people.
“Some people still believe that the Bushmen are people that belong in the bush, hunting and gathering, incapable of understanding complex issues,” said Moapare. He said his wish is to prove that they are people with hopes and dreams.
Meanwhile, Gakelekgolelwe feels torn between tradition and modernity. In his family, Gakelekgolelwe is seen as the one who will pass on traditional values to the next generation. He represents the future of a community that hopes to keep alive a vanishing culture ÔÇô those born and raised in the CKGR who still remember and practice the hunting and gathering lifestyle and regard it with deep esteem. But Gakelekgolelwe wonders whether his future is in Metsiamanong with his father or with his peers, who work and earn an income in town.
“This whole issue of the CKGR relocations has become so politicised and polarised that there really hasn’t been a healthy discussion,” said Koehler. His hope is that this film will humanise the people that are being affected by the policy in such a way that there will be a positive and healthy dialogue about it. ‘How do we approach this now that relocation has happened? What are the things that we need to do to make sure that there are more people who have a sense of home, a sense of belonging, a sense of dignity? These are some of the questions he hopes will come up.
Koehler said the people of New Xade told him that their name for the village in the local languages of G/ui and G//ana is ‘Kg’oesakene’, meaning ‘looking for life’, which inspired the title of the film.
Looking for Life puts into context the enormous transition that the San have undergone in a short period of time. Few members of the younger generation yearn to return to the life of old, but they often feel uneasy as if something might be missing. Unlike those of the older generation who channel their uneasiness into declarations of returning home, many young San channel it into ideas about how to redefine themselves and embrace the future. Youths like Moapare and Gakelekgolelwe share an incredible burden of shaping their new culture. They are all looking for life, searching for how to reinvent themselves and their people in the wake of relocation. You too can follow their journeys as well as view the newly-released teaser and additional material, all related to ‘Looking for Life’ by visiting the film’s official Facebook page at www.facebook.com/LookingForLifeFilm.