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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
A Far Off Place
Directed by Mikael Salomon
Buena Vista Home Entertainment 03/93 DVD/VHS Feature Film
PG - violence, mild language
In A Far Off Place, Nonnie Parker (Reese Witherspoon) is a self-sufficient teenager who has grown up in Africa on a game preserve. Her father, the warden, is waging war on elephant poachers. One evening, she ventures out to see an African bushman friend, Xhabbo (Sarel Bok). Harry Winslow (Ethan Randall), a spoiled adolescent visiting from New York with his father, follows her. While they are away, poachers attack the compound, killing all the adults. The two teenagers realize that they, too, are in grave danger.
Xhabbo, who had a psychic premonition of danger through a "tapping," volunteers to lead them to safety on a thousand mile trek across the Kalahari Desert. He assures them: "If the wind can cross it, we can." Although this seems to be an impossible feat, Nonnie trusts his plan when she learns it is from the same premonition. Harry is not so easily convinced.
Xhabbo lives with one foot in this world and the other in the world of spirit. In the desert, he proves adept at finding water and suitable food. He can read the signs of nature and communicate with the animals. At the outset of their journey, he asks a group of elephants to walk behind the three young people to cover their tracks so the poachers cannot find them. To Harry's amazement, the elephants agree. Just when the teenagers are in greatest danger of being discovered, Xhabbo conjures up a dust storm.
A Far Off Place is based on two books about African bushmen by Laurens van der Post. Director Mikael Salomon makes the most of the beautiful desert colors and images. His sensitivity to African culture and the very real contemporary problem of wildlife destruction are also to be commended. But most of all this film is laudable for its portrayal of a spiritual journey.
Most religious traditions have stories about the testing of youth and their initiation into a new way of being in the world. Here Xhabbo is both a guide for Nonnie and Harry and their mentor. This film celebrates the wisdom of native peoples and the deep spiritual friendships they offer us. Like Xhabbo, it clears a path for our spirits to travel.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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