I sincerely don't know how this movie got green-lighted and made -- really, because the story of "Oka!" is not something that would attract mass audiences, especially in the United States. But I'm glad that it was made and I got to watch it. It was truly a delightful and remarkable experience, in a time in which many of the world's cultural treasures are disappearing due to greed, in all its manifestations.
"Oka!" is based on "Last thoughts before vanishing from the face of the Earth," a memoir written by Louis Sarno, who left the comfort of his New Jersey home for Central Africa some 25 years ago. And it is precisely in New Jersey, at his mother's home, that we meet Larry Whitman (Sarno's movie name, played by Kris Marshall), where he is bored to death, haven't sold any CD, and anxious to return to Africa, in order that he can keep recording the music of the Bayaka pygmies - Larry is an ethnomusicologist, an expert of Bayaka pigmy music. Sadly, Larry gets ill before the trip, and is diagnosed with a malfunctional kidney and problems with his hearing. Nevertheless, he's desperate to go back to Africa, because his catalog of the music is incomplete -- he is still missing the Malimo instrument. Once in Africa, Larry meets his pygmy friends and goes to their village, where the habitants really like him. However, certain parts of Africa, like other parts of the so-called uncivilized world, are changing due to "civilized" expansion. In this case, a sawmill is destroying the forests and habitats of some native groups. This destructive movement is being led by Mr.Yi (Will Yun Lee), the manager of the enterprise, and the very corrupt Bassoun (Isaach De Bankolé, the area's mayor. They will do anything to get the wood and for sure have no respect of and discriminate against the pigmies. To the get this precious land and its timber, Bassoun says, he needs to "prove to the wildlife club that they (the pigmies) are a threat to the elephants," in order that he can say that the sawmill offers "a more stable partnership [with the environment]." Furthermore, Bassoun also informs Mr. Yi that he is in the process of "systemizing the pygmies." So, for Larry and the pygmies, is a race against time.
The film is colorful, with a delicious soundtrack, beautiful scenery, and most importantly, great acting by the pygmies, who will win your heart. They are shown as knowledgeable noble individuals most of the time, but also with faults as all of us. In addition, very few films - if any, that I can remember - show the lives and dedication of ethnomusicologists who are trying to save the music and musical instruments of all cultures in the world. (USA, 2011, color, 105 min)
Reviewed on October 24, 2013 by Eric Gonzalez for Well Go USA Blu-ray