Bitter Roots

BITTER ROOTS is set in Nyae-Nyae, a region of Namib­ia locat­ed in south­ern Africa’s Kala­hari desert, tra­di­tion­al home of the Ju/‘hoansi. It updates the ethno­graph­ic film record begun in the 1950s by John Mar­shall, whose films doc­u­ment­ed 50 years of change, and who togeth­er with Claire Ritchie, estab­lished a grass-roots devel­op­ment foun­da­tion, which Adrian Strong (the film­mak­er) joined in the late 1980s.

Shot in 2007, two years after Mar­shal­l’s death (and includ­ing footage from his films), BITTER ROOTS doc­u­ments the return of Strong and Ritchie to Nyae-Nyae where they observe the ero­sion of a com­mu­ni­ty-led devel­op­ment process fol­low­ing the impo­si­tion of a new agenda led by the WWF, which pri­or­i­tizes wildlife con­ser­va­tion and tourism over sub­sis­tence farm­ing. Com­mu­ni­ties voice their dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the new Con­ser­van­cy, which has done little to help people farm and improve their lives.

Through archival footage and dis­cus­sions with com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, this film sen­si­tive­ly exam­ines the prob­lems (lions, ele­phants, con­ser­va­tion­ists) the Ju/‘hoansi are cur­rent­ly facing and chal­lenges the myth that they are cul­tur­al­ly unable to farm. The film inves­ti­gates the per­pet­u­a­tion of this myth by show­ing how tourists and film­mak­ers still demand to see how people used to live rather than the way they live now, and how the Ju/‘hoansi cope with such expec­ta­tions, while stead­fast­ly con­tin­u­ing to farm against all the odds.