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Okavango

Okavango: River of Dreams (Director's Cut)

Dereck Joubert and Beverly Joubert, directors
Terra Mater Factual Studios and Wildlife Films
2019
94 minutes

Lightning crackles across the sky, lions roar as they tussle over a freshly killed waterbuck, raindrops smack the parched earth, and elephants trumpet. These are the sights and sounds of the Okavango River, the subject of a new documentary film by National Geographic explorers-in-residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert.

The Okavango is a distinctive river. More than 1000 km in length, it begins in the highlands of Angola, passes through Namibia, and empties into the Kalahari. It is entirely continental and never touches the ocean. Instead, when the water reaches the Kalahari, it evaporates in the heat of the desert. Using close-ups of droplets hanging on grasses growing alongside the river and expansive aerial footage, the film documents the important role of water to the Okavangan ecosystem.

The animals living along the river are the stars of the film. The story of an injured lion named Fekeetsa, for example, is interwoven with the tale of the leopardess Moporoto, who is protecting her two cubs. Meanwhile, close-up and slow-motion footage details the ever-present conflict between predators and prey. Underwater footage shows crocodiles and catfish stirring up river waters as they voraciously pursue their next meal.

The most thought-provoking scenes are those that explore how animal–river interactions shape the ecosystem. Elephants, in their quest for grasses, trudge paths through the wetlands, opening new waterways and changing the course of the Okavango. At the river’s terminus, termites build towering mounds of clay that form the nucleus of islands on which trees sprout and stabilize the land, ultimately leading to the mosaic of islands that form the complex delta.

Okavango

Like the river it documents, the film meanders through the Okavangan landscape. Luminous aerial images bathed in orange light, dramatic footage of lion hunts, and unusual underwater perspectives of the river draw the viewer in. The sounds—the deep rumble of lions and the snorts of baby warthogs—are some of the most surprising aspects of the film. Okavango is the Jouberts’ love letter to the river, and Dereck’s poetic narration conveys this love.

The Botswanan government recently lifted a ban on trophy hunting, endangering the inhabitants of the Okavango, particularly the region’s elephant population (which is currently the world’s largest). This film allows viewers to voyage to this fascinating biosphere and encourages them to advocate for its future.

About the author

Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA.