When renowned photojournalist Elizabeth L. Gilbert returns to the Rift Valley in Africa to visit the tribes she photographed just a decade earlier, she bears witness to the changes wrought on the region. After her book is published, she hires a crew from Nairobi to assist her in screening a cinema slideshow to tribes-people, like the Masai, in their remote villages. But her ambitious safari is fraught with inclement weather, security issues, and self-doubt. Matt Goldman’s first feature captures the reunions, the dramas, and ultimately the triumph of this remarkable journey.
Please describe The Last Safari in your own words.
Matt Goldman: The Last Safari is a love letter both to the subjects, and to a time on this earth that has long since passed. It’s a provocative journey of self-reflection into the unknown—one that will make you think, laugh and cry all at the same time.
What inspired you to make this particular film?
MG: Basically Liz did. When I first met her, I was immediately taken by her whole lifestyle and story, not to mention her two exquisite photography books. She’s this impossibly rare diplomat between two diametrically opposed worlds, documenting vanishing tribes in an idealized and lionizing way. I saw much more to the story than just the pictures; I wanted to know why she did the books and how she went about it. So when she secured some financing for an expedition to return to the peoples in her books, I jumped at the opportunity to tag along.
Liz had been discussing how to document the journey on a shoestring budget with a few filmmaker friends, but I was relentless in making the case that I was her man. Of course there was no way to know what we were going to get, but I felt compulsively driven to tell her story thru the lens of this crazy and ambitious journey she had concocted. Little did I know what I had gotten myself into…
There were so many differences between the first and second trip. How would you imagine the subjects would have changed on a third trip?
MG: Seeing as that they are now all talking on cell phones and riding motorcycles, I would imagine going back again we’d see more construction and more cars, and satellite dishes on top of bomas and the like. I would also expect to see more churches, as they are a constant force for modernization out there.
If there were a third trip, I would imagine we would actually screen the movie, and I think it would be amazing. It would be a way of coming full circle again, if that’s possible—almost like a circle within a circle—perhaps a bit too meta. But I’d hope screening the movie would give them pause to reflect on the meaning of such rapid change, and that they would feel vindicated by being immortalized on the screen and preserved for future generations.
What do you want audiences to take away from your film?
MG: I hope the journey inspires reflection, but I also want to people to be fully engaged and entertained. My goal was to bring a rather esoteric subject matter to a larger audience thru tight editing and interwoven narratives. There’s just so much going on during the Safari and lots to take away.
At the same time, I didn’t want the film to have a particular axe to grind. I always wanted the POV to stay objective, to allow people to come to their own conclusions about the film and the predicaments it presents.
What’s one piece of advice you have for aspiring filmmakers?
MG: I know I should say, ‘Follow your dreams, stay true your vision, and be tenacious.’ But I feel compelled to say, ‘Go into real estate.’ Let’s combine the two sentiments and call it a day.
What are you most looking forward to at the 2013 Hamptons International Film Festival?
MG: Well, it is our world premiere, so that’s really exciting, and we simply can’t wait to screen it. I am looking forward to the Q&As, as those have been quite engaging at our test screenings. I could use a good party or four, and I’m very much looking forward to meeting the HIFF team, other filmmakers, producers and movie lovers of all sorts!
Director Matt Goldman launched his filmmaking career in 1999 when his award winning debut short film Broke was exhibited in dozens of film festivals and licensed worldwide for television broadcast. Goldman’s second award winning short film, The Perpetual Life of Jim Albers, screened at Sundance, Resfest, Rotterdam, and dozens of other international film festivals. Goldman currently divides his time between Brooklyn and Kenya directing and editing documentaries, commercial spots, TV inserts, and music videos.