DER Documentary

Bushman's Secret

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By Rehad Desai
color, 65 min, 2006
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When South African filmmaker Rehad Desai travels to the Kalahari to investigate global interest in ancient Bushmen knowledge, he meets Jan van der Westhuizen, a fascinating Khomani San traditional healer. Jan's struggle to live close to nature is hampered by centuries of colonial exploitation of the San Bushmen and of their land. Unable to survive as they once did hunting and gathering, the Khomani now live in a state of poverty that threatens to see the last of this community forever.

One plant could make all the difference. Hoodia, a cactus used by Bushmen for centuries, has caught the attention of a giant pharmaceutical company. It now stands to decide the fate of the Khomani San.

Bushman's Secret features breathtaking footage of the Kalahari landscape, and exposes us to a world where modernity collides with ancient ways, at a time when each has, strangely, come to rely on the other.

South African filmmaker Rehad Desai details the lose-lose situation facing the San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in this eye-opening documentary. Evicted from their ancestral lands, forced to abandon their native languages, and left to fend for themselves in a state of brutal poverty on the fringes of South African society, the Bushmen now face further exploitation, since the hoodia cactus (a source of food and medicinal healing) is being taken from their remaining lands by the conglomerate Unilever for use as a dubious weight loss product (ironically, Unilever also claims to be the "world's largest ice cream manufacturer," surely a contributing factor to obesity). Despite an agreement signed with the South African government for profits from the harvesting of hoodia, the Bushmen have yet to enjoy any financial returns. Bushman's Secret serves up a shameful indictment of contemporary South African government, which would sooner kowtow to multinational corporate demands than provide basic services for its own people. Highly recommended. –Phil Hall, Video Librarian
“Desai's documentary raises the larger issues of indigenous people's rights and fair use of community knowledge. The digital age has spawned a new awareness of creators / authors' rights, including areas not considered before now as being protected by intellectual property rights. If new copyright rules have been created and old ones tightened, it is to be expected that rights of groups hitherto not considered "owners" will also come under close scrutiny. This documentary highlights just one case, but it marks a new development, in that companies cannot continue to take advantage of indigenous peoples for much longer. ” —Miriam Conteh-Morgan, The Ohio State University Libraries

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Silverdocs/AFI Discovery Channel Documentary Festival, 2006
Durban International Film Festival, 2006
Encounters South African Documentary Festival, 2006
3 Continental Film Festival, South Africa, 2006
Apollo Film Festival, 2006
Festival de Libertes Belgium, 2006
15th Annual Pan African Film Festival, Los Angeles, CA, 2006
Artapart screening, Muizenberg, South Africa, 2006
In-san-ity Festival, South Africa, 2006
International Film Festival of Zambia, 2006
Global African Congress, Washington, 2007
World Social Forum, Kenya, 2007
Fribourg International Film Festival, Switzerland, 2007
Ditschwanelo Film Festival, Botswana, 2007
Iziko Museum, South Africa, 2007
Syracuse International Film & Video Festival, Syracuse, NY, 2007
Langston Hughes African American Film Festival, Seattle, WA, 2007
African Movie Academy Awards, Nigeria, 2007
Klein Karoo Kultur Festival, Oudtshoorn, South Africa, 2007
Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival, Ithaca, NY, 2007
Documenta Madrid, Spain, 2007
Athens International Film & Video Festival, Ohio, 2007
Northeastern Anthropological Association Conference, Ithaca, NY, 2007
14th International Environmental Film Festival, Catalonia, 2007
Brooklyn International Film Festival, Brooklyn, NY, 2007
Silver Dhow Award, Zanzibar International Film Festival, 2007
DOCSDF - International Documentary Film Festival in Mexico City, 2007
African Asian and Latin American Film Festival of Milan, 2007
Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival, Canada, 2007
Calgary International Film Festival, Canada, 2007
Images of Repair Film Festival, N'COBRA Youth Commission of Atlanta, 2007
Africa World Film Festival, St. Louis, MO, 2007
African Studies Association Conference, Rutgers University, NJ, 2007
Detroit Docs, 2007
Kenya International Film Festival, 2007
Documentary Jury Award, Amazonas Film Festival, Brazil, 2007
International TV Festival Bar, Montenegro, 2007
Best of Planet in Focus, Mixed Greens Monthly Screening, Gardiner Museum, Toronto, Canada, 2007
New York African Film Festival, 2008
International Black DocuFest, Atlanta, GA, 2008
Cine Gaia - International Environmental Film Festival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2008
Africa in Motion Film Festival, Scotland, 2008
Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival, China, 2008

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Supported By Massachusetts Cultural Council National Endowment for the Humanities National Endowment for the Arts