Oka! (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
October 19, 2013 by Dennis Amith
I appreciated the film for its beauty, its message and found Lavinia Currier’s film to be rather special. “Oka!” is recommended!
FILM RELEASE: 2011
DURATION: 105 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 16:9 Widescreen, English, French, Aka DTS-HD MA 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0, English subtitles: English
COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment
Release Date: October 22, 2013
Directed by Lavinia Currier
Screenplay by Lavinia Currier, Louis Sarno, Suzanne Stroh
Produced by James Bruce, Lavinia Currier
Co-Produced by Norbert Bogbeyate
Line Producer: Jean de Tregomain
Cinematography by Conrad W. Hall, Alphonse Roy
Edited by Kristina Boden, Noclas Gaster
Casting by Lisa Hamil
Production Design by Alex Vivet
Kris Marshall as Larry
Peter Riegert as Dr. Maguire
Will Yun Lee as Yi
Haviland Morris as Lydia Blake
Isaach De Bankole as Bassoun
Sebastian Beacon as Derek
25 years ago, ethnomusicologist Louis Sarno traveled from New Jersey to the forests of Central Africa to record the music of the Bayaka Pygmies. He fell in love with the people, their music, their lifestyle – and a local girl. Despite his failing health and the harsh realities of life in the village, he follows the Bayaka into the heart of the forest. OKA! is a true story of strength and bravery, uniquely capturing the spirit of a people with music, humor, and love.
Louis Sarno is a name that is known for his work in capturing the music of the pygmy tribes in Africa. His story of how he left Newark, New Jersey in 1985 to record the Bayaka Pygmies and their music and surrounding environment was featured in his CD/book package “Bayaka: The Extraordinary Music of the BaBenzi Pygmies”.
Sarno who learned the language and loved being among the Bayaka Pygmies, ended up marrying a woman form the tribe and decided to live in the forest of Central Africa. And through his experiences, it would lead to his book titled “Song from the Forest”.
And now that experience has led to a loosely based film adaptation by director Lavinia Currier (“Passion in the Desert”, “Heart of the Garden”) and would be co-written by Sarno, Currier and Suzanne Stroh.
“Oka!” would star Kris Marshall (“Love Actually”, “Death at a Funeral”, “The Merchant of Venice”), Will Yun Lee (“Total Recall”, “The Wolverine”, “Elektra”), Peter Riegert (“The Mask”, “Animal House”, “Damages”) and Isaach De Bankole (“Casino Royale”, “Manderlay”, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”).
And now the film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment in Oct. 2013.
“Oka!” means “Listen” in the Bayaka language, Aka. The film would featured Kris Marshall speaking the Aka language and also feature the Bayaka Pigmy tribe and their music. But the film would highlight the problem of tribes being driven out of their habitat due to logging.
“Oka!” begins with musicologist Larry (portrayed by Kris Marshall) find out that he is losing his hearing and that his health is quite bad. His doctor (played by Peter Riegert) tells him that he can no longer travel but for Larry, his happiness and his life was living with the Bayaka Pygmy tribe in Central Africa. Since he has not been there for a long time, Larry wants to record the music and natural sounds from the area before he gets sick or loses his hearing.
So, Larry asks for a loan from a wealthy friend in order to fund his latest project to record in Africa and eventually buys a ticket and heads back to Central Africa to reunite the people in the area.
The reuniting with the group goes very well and many of the people in the Tribe are happy to see him back and also get gifts that he has brought back to the tribe.
Meanwhile, we find out that the mayor of the area, Bassoun (portrayed by Isaach De Bankole) has been working with Yi (portrayed by Will Yun Lee), who works with the biggest Chinese logging company in Africa. We learn that Yi wants an area that has been preserved by the government for the pygmies for logging. Bassoun knows its very difficult to drive them out, but he comes up with an idea to bust the group for poaching an elephant, which is illegal. And this will give them the opportunity they need to take the land from the pygmy.
But once Bassoun and Yi arrive to the area, it becomes complicated because they see Larry as a threat to their plans.
As Larry plans to record the music and sounds of the area, he learns how much the place has changed since he has been gone. But he finds out how happy he is with the Byaka tribe and also begins to fall in love with a woman in the tribe. But can he live with the tribe and be accepted despite their cultural differences?
“Oka!” is presented in 1080p High Definition and the film looks absolutely gorgeous in HD. Shot primarily outdoors, the look of the environment is visually striking thanks to the vibrant greens, the blue sky and the amazing details during the closeup of the characters.
But what is more amazing is how much access the film crew were able to get up close with the Byaka tribe and capture a lot of them in their natural element. A strikingly beautiful film on Blu-ray!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Oka!” is presented in English, French and Aka DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. While dialogue is clear and understandable and subtitles very easy to read, there are two things that I have noted with this film and that is the film’s music and ambiance. As one can expect, with Larry being a musicologist and recording the sounds of the area with his equipment, there are scenes where he captures the music of the tribe and Lavinia Currier’s interview with NPR confirms that the Bayaka tribe actually played their own music and brought their music to composer Chris Berry, who is a student of African music.
I was captivated by the music of the film and as far as the second most notable aspect of the film through its lossless soundtrack was the ambiance. You can hear the sounds of the forest, the birds, the bugs. The crew did a great job in capturing the sounds of the forest and really plays well with the film’s title to “listen” because “Oka!” is not just a film about stunning visuals but also a treat via lossless audio. I was absolutely captivated by this lossless soundtrack.
Subtitles are in English.
“Oka!” comes with a trailer.
I think there are people who will watch “Oka!” and be captivated the film and how it captures the Bayaka tribe but also showcasing an underlying message that their home is being threatened and it is not know if these Pygmy tribes will be around in the next 25 years.
The film manages to increase our curiosity as we watch the character Larry, being passionate about the culture and speaking to them (I have to give credit to Kris Marshall for learning the Aka language), but also for the fact that the Bayaka Pigmy Tribe allowed the film crew to come to their land and make a movie.
While we know that their habitat is being threatened by logging companies from all over the globe who have taken a residence in the area, we see how people of the region have also come to accept modernization and just want the Pygmy Tribes to be gone. The film shows us that one side through the character of the Mayor, who works with these companies, gets paid to try to get them removed from their protected habitat.
The other side of the film, through the journey of Larry is to show us how beautiful their habitat is. How their are insects, creatures and people who have lived there and are quite happy without modernization. How trees and other plants have been there for who knows how long but loggers want access to those trees for the sake of business.
There have been movies about how people are threatening the habitat of the rain forests, but as Louis Sarno has been vocal about how the area needs to be protected in Central Africa, his interviews have given people an idea that the Bayaka are seen as too primitive and treated like animals. They are hunters/gatherers who live for the day, not so much about the future and they have done quite well without the use of modern technology.
But through interviews with Sarno, he does show people how some Bayaka tribe members are trying to modernized by getting jobs or wanting certain things from society that they can have at home But also because they are uneducated, how they are used and abused. And he does his best to help counsel them on how society truly is and how they can avoid bad situations.
While Lavinia Currier’s film is not about the negative aspects of what is hurting the tribe, she does focus on a message that she brings to the masses and its a message that shows us that these tribes are being driven out and they may not be around much longer. But showing how this one man has immersed himself with the Bayakan Pygmies and embraced their culture and did what he can to become among them.
As for the Blu-ray release, it’s one absolutely beautiful film in HD. The cinematography is breathtaking and the colors captured in HD are vibrant. The lossless audio captures the music from the tribe but the ambiance of the forest. While there is no special features included, which is a shame because this would have been a great film to showcase the real Louis Sarno but also expand on the message that Sarno has been delivering to media for so many years.
But I liken “Oka!” to something that someone had not experienced before. May it be one’s first time watching opera, or a first time eating sushi, everyone has that expectance that they may not like it but there are those who can watch a film like “Oka!” and appreciated the film for its beauty, its message and found Lavinia Currier’s film to be rather special. And that’s how I came away after watching this delightful film.
“Oka!” is recommended!
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