Watchlist: Years after the Headlines, the Documentary Arrives
By MIKE HALE
Those interested in documentary filmmaking, the situation in the Niger Delta or the travails of Americans overseas may remember the story of Andrew Berends, who was arrested and charged with spying in Nigeria in 2008 while working on a film about militants in the oil-rich delta. He briefly became the subject of international bulletins during his 10-day ordeal and the campaign to win his release.
Now there’s happier news: The resulting documentary, “Delta Boys,” is being released Tuesday online at sites including SnagFilms and Hulu. The 55-minute film was largely shot inside the camp of the rebel leader Ateke Tom, who at the time led a band of 2,000 young men claiming to fight for the rights and welfare of delta residents against the oppression of the Nigerian government and foreign oil companies. A slice-of-life production with minimal narration and a smattering of news reports for context, it doesn’t present alternate points of view, though Mr. Berends raises the question of whether the militants are in it for justice or for money and violence.
Life in the muddy forest camp, just up the river from brightly lighted and heavily guarded oil facilities, is something most Westerners won’t have seen before, even amid the current outpouring of socially engaged documentaries. But Mr. Berends’s best and most unusual material comes in a brief visit to a nearby village where a woman goes into a dangerous and protracted labor. Medicine consists of roots, and the birth elicits calls for the fetching of sand, whose purpose remains mysterious. Exhibiting perfect timing, Mr. Berends has his camera on a tense young man at the moment the baby’s first cry is heard. He smiles, and so do we.