Global Cinema 23: Botswana – Naledi: A Baby Elephant’s Tale (2016)

I am currently in the process of moving halfway around the world, so some of my regularly scheduled reviews may be a little delayed, and that’s also the reason I haven’t been running my theme weeks. I’ll get back up to speed soon enough I’m sure, when I have better access to films and places to watch them. In the meantime, here’s an older review (and a rather short one) for a Bosnian film, as we’ve reached that country, which has gone through a tumultuous recent history, and emerged as its own sovereign state in recent years.


Batswana flagRepublic of Botswana
population 2,254,000 | capital Gaborone (227k) | largest cities Gaborone, Francistown (100k), Molepolole (68k), Mogoditshane (58k), Maun (56k) | area 581,730 km2 | religion Christianity (73%), none (20%) | official language English, Setswana (or Tswana) | major ethnicity Tswana (79%), Kalanga (11%) | currency Botswana pula (P) [BWP] | internet .bw

A largely flat landlocked country bordering South Africa, with 70% of its territory taken up by the Kalahari Desert and thus one of the most sparsely populated in the world. The name means “land of the Tswana”, the largest ethnic group in the country, though the former name under British colonisation was Bechuanaland. Human remains have been traced back 2 million years, and may have even been the birthplace of modern humans. The original inhabitants were bushmen (San) and Khoi, with Bantu speakers moving in around 600 CE and the first Tswana speakers around the 16th century or earlier. Trade routes via the Limpopo River to the Indian Ocean was largely around ivory and gold in exchange for Asian goods. Various chiefdoms prospered until brought under Batswana control by the late-19th century, resisting incursions by Afrikaner settlers from the south. Comparative peace followed, along with a settled border, and Christian missionaries flourished. Britain claimed the area during the Berlin Conference to protect its trade routes from South Africa, but resisted integrating the territory into South Africa, and independence was granted on 30 September 1966 with Seretse Khama elected as first President (with some of his story told in the 2016 film A United Kingdom). A relatively stable democracy is in place, with an elected President accountable to Parliament.

There is relatively little film production in the country, although it has been used as the location for a number of projects, including the international hit The Gods Must Be Crazy (1981) and its sequel, and a few other Western films.


Naledi: A Baby Elephant’s Tale (2016)

I’m hardly a connoisseur of nature documentaries. This one has some occasionally lovely shots of the Batswana landscape, of elephants and other creatures roaming the wild, while the (mostly white) conservationists and veterinarians who are at the film’s heart watch them and talk about the ways in which they are trying to preserve them from ivory poachers. However, the bulk of the film is taken up by the young elephant of the film’s title, which is tracked from its birth through a difficult childhood as its mother dies, and the doctors need to ensure it continues to live. There’s a bit of drama there, all underscored by swelling music at appropriate moments. I can’t say it was transportative but it gives an idea of the work being done in these African habitats to try and ensure the survival of elephants.

Naledi: A Baby Elephant's Tale film posterCREDITS
Directors Ben Bowie and Geoffrey Luck; Cinematographer Lee Jackson; Length 90 minutes.
Seen at a hotel (Netflix streaming), Auckland, Wednesday 21 October 2020.