Films: Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai

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Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai

Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai

USA, 2008, 80 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: African-American, Documentary, Social Issues, Womens Issues
Program: Documentary Films
Language: English, Swahili English Subtitles

DIRECTOR: Alan Dater, Lisa Merton
Producer: Lisa Merton, Alan Dater
Editor: Mary Lampson, Tom Haneke, Jim Klein, Alan Dater
Cinematographer: Alan Datr

Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai is the focus of Taking Root, which follows the rise of the Green Belt Movement from a literally grassroots organization reclaiming Kenya’s deforested countryside to a force for dissent that changed the political landscape as well.

Maathai taught at the University of Nairobi for fifteen years before returning to her rural roots and taking up her life’s work. She discovered that years of exploitation, first by British colonialists and then by dictator Daniel arap Moi, had devastated the country’s extensive forests, depleting resources and causing rampant malnutrition because the soil had eroded so badly it could no longer support crops. Documentarians Lisa Merton and Alan Dater (Home to Tibet) explore the trajectory of Maathai’s progressive influence beginning in 1977, when she launched a movement to restore the Kenyan countryside by simply asking, “Why not plant trees?” What began as a nonpolitical gathering of rural women building tree nurseries slowly grew into a campaign against deforestation, poverty, and chronic disparities in education and economic opportunity. Maathai found herself at the forefront of activists who endured threats, violent suppression, and the repercussions of a hunger strike—but who were rewarded in 2002, when they helped end Moi’s twenty-four-year reign.

Cinema verité shots of the planting and tending of nurseries is balanced with chilling accounts and newsreels of the group’s confrontations with police forces in the 1980s and 1990s. Interviews with Maathai convey the statesmanlike presence of the Nobel laureate, while archival footage testifies to the courage of a then-young woman who is sure of her cause but only beginning to grasp the dangerousness and enormity of her mission.


Barbara Bridges, Holland & Hart LLP,
In cooperation with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Colorado

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