The Journey Is the DestinationTorontoToronto Film Festival 2016
Based on the life of Dan Eldon, a British photographer and artist who shot to fame at the beginning of the 1990s for his stunning photographs of the Somalian Civil War, Bronwen Hughes’ The Journey Is the Destination is a colourful and artsy biopic retracing his “adventures” in Africa. Unfortunately, while Eldon’s extremely brief career was undoubtedly impressive, the film falls short of conveying his full persona as well as the historical situation, stranding itself in tacky scenarios of teen thrills.
Raised in a British expat family in Kenya, from a very young age Eldon had developed a fiery awareness of political and social causes in Africa, as well as a striking artistic sensibility. The first part of The Journey Is the Destination retraces his safaris through the African bush, before moving onto his kick-start as a reporter in the Somalian war. A shooting star of war photojournalism, fuelled by the youthful enthusiasm that constantly hovers between brave, daring and irresponsible, his short life ended when he was stoned by an angry mob before the Mogadishu battle.
From the age of 14 to just before his death, the photographer produced a consistent stack of scrapbooks, where he would combine his own photographs with cut-outs, paintings, and words. Very intelligently combined and beautiful, this artwork is ever-present in the film, adding to the different chapters of the protagonist’s life and his movements across the continent. To be incorporated into the picture, the collages have received some animation treatment; a losing move that doesn’t do justice to the original pieces, which end up looking very different from the poetic handiwork they are.
Some subtle commentary makes an occasional side-eye at the positions of American and European journalists and “peace-keepers” in Somalia, but much of Hughes’ movie still feels embedded with the white saviour rhetoric – not of the arrogant kind, but more the unconsciously condescending behaviour of young Westerners heading out into the wild. The first segment of the narrative especially includes a variety of cringeworthy lines and some shadows of stereotypes still lurk about.
Killed at only 22 while working in Somalia, Dan Eldon was definitely an incredible young talent, with an eye and a sensibility that was quite rare, but it is this thought that keeps one going through The Journey Is the Destination. Read his story before watching the film, or it will feel like a big cliché of the white kid’s adventures, rather than a homage to the young man himself.
The Journey Is the Destination does not yet have a UK release date.
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