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      Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai

      2008 1h 21m Documentary List
      Reviews 90% Audience Score 50+ Ratings The narrative of Wangari Maathai's personal journey of planting trees in Kenya during the repressive regime of Daniel arap Moi in the 1980s. Read More Read Less

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      Theo t In 2004, Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize and the first person ever to win one for work in environmentalism. The film Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai tells how she ensured a better environment for Kenya and helped overthrow a corrupt government through a seemingly simple mission: teaching women how to plant trees. We see Kenya transform within Maathai's lifetime from rich forests full of life to barren land and mono-crops as British colonization grows more and more influential and the corrupt Moi government takes over. We see how vital forests are to Kenyans, and how stripping these forests stripped them of their culture, access to healthy food, firewood to cook, and their healthy soil and rivers. After getting her college degree, Maathai realizes she needs to restore the land by educating women on how to plant native trees. In doing so, she empowers them to fight against the Moi government and protect their land. The film establishes credibility by being almost entirely composed of interviews of Maathai herself and the activists who fought alongside her, with real footage from the events discussed. This footage allows the viewer, who may know very little about Kenya, to understand all that was lost on a deeper level. The film opens with a view of the central highlands of Kenya at sunset, with tall trees and the mountain Maathai had grown up by, accompanied by birds singing almost in harmony with the rhythm of a bubbly, happy-sounding instrument. Maathai explains how the mountain had long been "the inspiration for [her] people," and soon depicts a stream full of thousands of frog eggs. The stream flows next to a giant fig tree of her youth, which her mother taught her was a tree of God. This is all juxtaposed with the reality she sees when she returns after going to the United States to get a college education: "In the 60s I go back to the place I had grown up, and I discover now the place of God was in a church. A stone building had been put up. That's where God was. So this tree no longer called for respect. It no longer inspired awe. It no longer was protected. They had cut it. And sure enough, the stream had also disappeared. And if the stream dies, the frog eggs, the tadpoles, the frogs, and everything else that lived in those waters disappeared. And we can no longer go there and fetch the water." Vast, lush forests and the sounds of raindrops on the leaves are compared to a bird's eye view of the lone man-made church, standing out with its white unnatural walls. It makes the church look small and incomparable to all that the land has to offer. Dried-out streams and fields dedicated to cash crops leave the viewer with no confusion as to how Maathai knows the way Kenya is headed will lead to its destruction. The footage also stands as proof that Maathai worked extremely hard, constantly being at the forefront of educating civilians, holding peaceful protests, and facing the violent reactions of the military. It is hard to imagine how much work so many people had to put in to protect their land and families from their own government. But this movie provides a rare glimpse into the reality of what goes into a success story like Maathai's. While the film focuses solely on Kenya and mostly on just one woman's work there, its messages are universally applicable and crucial in understanding how to combat the devastating losses we face because of decisions made beyond our reach. Environmental activist Kamoji Wachiira highlights the methods the colonizers used against Kenyans: "The formula was: weaken their cultural infrastructure. Infiltrate their minds. Make them think they're not good enough– that their history, traditions are rotten. In fact, [the British] came and said this is devil worshiping." This formula has worked time and time again, so it is incredibly important that people are familiar with it and can prevent it in the future. The primary method used was erasing and restricting knowledge. The British destroyed the wealth of cultural and environmental knowledge that held Kenya together. Then the Moi government tried to stop Wangari Maathai from teaching people how to plant trees and restoring some of that knowledge. At a time when the US government is banning books in schools, it is crucial that we understand what it means to take knowledge away. It is crucial that we understand that education is the biggest tool for empowerment. Ultimately, Wangari Maathai's story is one of hope. We are surrounded by environmental destruction, and it can feel pointless to fight gigantic oil monsters and greedy politicians. We know from the movie that it is hard. That it can involve blood shed, imprisonment, and unimaginable pain. But we also see that it is worth it. We see smiling mothers talking about now healthy children, a plant nursery full of tall trees where there was once nothing but dirt, sons coming back to their mothers after being released from prison. Stories like these are what keeps people going and what teaches them the most effective strategies in activism. If the goal of the film was to inspire, they nailed it by showing how many people's lives were changed by her work. They are able to go over a lot of information in only 81 minutes by staying to the point and using experienced speakers like Maathai and other lecturers to deliver succinct explanations. Given the lack of education and media attention on Africa in at least the US, this movie is a great, digestible piece that explores Kenya's history, with Kenyan people being the ones who tell it. Exposure to other people and learning about who they are is the only way we know how to help each other and ourselves. This film can be empowering, hopeful, and enlightening to people across the world. It highlights all the ways Wangari Maathai's work is deserving of more recognition than she gets, making it a five out of five stars. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 06/09/23 Full Review Audience Member Very interesting indeed. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 02/27/23 Full Review Audience Member Very inspirational!!! Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars 02/04/23 Full Review Audience Member What a great and uplifting doc! Wangari Maathai is truly inspirational! Rated 4 out of 5 stars 02/14/23 Full Review Audience Member A strong woman with an important message however this just didn't hold my interest. Rated 2 out of 5 stars 01/24/23 Full Review Read all reviews
      Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai

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      Synopsis The narrative of Wangari Maathai's personal journey of planting trees in Kenya during the repressive regime of Daniel arap Moi in the 1980s.
      Director
      Alan Dater, Lisa Merton
      Producer
      Alan Dater, Carl-A. Fechner, Lisa Merton
      Genre
      Documentary
      Original Language
      English
      Runtime
      1h 21m