Plays Fri May 7-Sun May 9
Clinton Street Theater
Follow this if you will: In the early 1950s, a dentist residing in Tacoma, Washington, by the name of William B. Treutle, was told by his doctor he had six months to live. So he flew to Africa, where he proceeded to fall in love with an American woman. The couple then traveled 17,000 miles across Africa to a desolate region called Karamoja, populated by a tribe of people untouched by the modern world. Enamored with the unassuming, ancient Karamojans, Treutle filmed their lives for months, and by the time he left (cue Hollywood ending music) actually overcame his mysterious terminal illness.
The final product of this surreally cinematic tale is Karamoja, a strange, lovely documentary. We watch the Karamojans making primitive tools and weapons with their bare hands, carrying water to cattle in chiseled wooden bowls, and walking everywhere unhindered by the burden of clothes (there are many, many big African penises in the film). Their customs are shockingly barbaric compared to what we're used to. They train their children from an extremely young age to be impervious to pain, which protects them later on from the tattoos, piercings, and other hurtful procedures every tribesperson endures to attain status. A particularly awful scene depicts adults holding down a young boy and bashing out his lower front teeth with a stick. He doesn't flinch, then sits up and spits blood into the dust for a while, staring nonchalantly into the distance.
Treutle's calling as a dentist was the wrong one; Karamoja is the work of a natural filmmaker. His camera is unobtrusive yet precise, framing the day to day doings of the Karamojans in quietly beautiful detail. His affection for them is contagious, even if it does ultimately feel like only part of a much larger story. In the end, this elegant, 50-minute film falls frustratingly short; it is but a short chapter in the life of a man who apparently lived an epic novel's worth of adventures.