SXSW Film Review: Ghostland (Germany, 2015)

Ghostland isn’t your average documentary. It echoes the story of The God’s Must Be Crazy in both a whimsical and crushing way. Ju / ‘Hoansi Bushmen are a tribe in Namibia. After hunting laws came into place their way of life was changed. Without the ability to hunt they had to survive off bushland berries and twigs as well as meagre money donations from tourists to buy processed goods.

To them it is their home, but you or I would see them living in a wasteland. With the help of an NGO two men and two women got to live and teach in Germany, and see a world they thought had never existed. The film transitions from watching these people survive in a bleak world we might not understand, to an observation of how we live and how ludicrous some of our societal traditions are.

Director Simon Stadler opens it up to a bleak scene of young men and women reminiscing about before the hunting was banned. Much like the arid landscape it’s a very dry presentation. But, that’s the point. It’s meant to seem dull, like these people are living in a limbo. Their culture is dying faster than they are dying of starvation, but they’re still Ju / ‘Hoansi bushmen and there’s a loss of what needs to be done.

The film moves quickly after these sharply dull scene, and carries into the wonderment as a troupe of them visit parts of Namibia and even meet other tribes who have learnt to survive.

It’s not all about juxtapositions between one world and another though. There’s something to be said for universality of human living. Despite never having seen a phone until tourists started driving past their territory, or never having stood in an elevator until the trip there are many similarities. They have the same facial expressions when they’re scared, worried, curious, excited, in love. These feelings and expressions are universal. They have dreams and nightmares. One woman said “but together our hearts felt safe, and when the others don’t have fear we can also do it.”

There is a point in the film where their observations on our life leaves the space of refreshing and fascinating, to dark and dangerous. For them, this is a research trip to find out how they can survive. No matter how many beach days, sing-a-longs and sightseeing afternoons they enjoy there is always a mission at the heart of their wonderment.

This kind of poverty and loyalty to culture still exists in the Kalahari. The stark imagery is both informative and terrifying. But there is something achievable that comes from this documentary too.

Review score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Ghostland screened at SXSW. To find our more about the film, and to see if there are any more SXSW screenings, head here.