We shared the trailer for this documentary on Twitter a few months ago, and it performed extraordinarily well, raising lots of inquiries. The entire film is now online, courtesy of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW). Watch it below.
BUDDHA IN AFRICA | Dir. Nicole Schafer | Documentary | South Africa, Sweden | Fifteen-year-old Enock and other orphaned children get a strict Buddhist education at the Chinese boarding school in Malawi and struggle to maintain their cultural identity.
Long synopsis: Orphans get a strict Buddhist education at a Chinese boarding school in Malawi. They learn Kung Fu and Mandarin, and how to use chopsticks to eat their maize.
Fifteen-year-old Enock, a talented Kung Fu performer who was once the school’s star student, now feels caught between two worlds. In his heart, he wants to return to the village where his grandmother and aunts live, but nowadays he speaks better Mandarin than his own mother tongue.
He’s got the opportunity to continue his studies in Taiwan, paid for by the charitable organization financing the boarding school. It’s tempting because a solid Chinese education could lead to a good job, there or at home — but would it mean betraying his African heritage?
Enock and his schoolmates are filmed without restriction during classes, meals, and Buddhist ceremonies. These scenes of discipline and formality are interspersed with interviews and conversations with school staff. This fascinating and sometimes unsettling film leaves us with an uneasy feeling. The new developments in our globalized world are bursting with symbolism, and powerfully recall the type of moral instruction found at the Christian mission schools of yesteryear.
Amid debate over the increasingly complex relationship between China and countries across Africa, the film explores topical themes of cultural identity and assimilation; the impact of globalization on traditional values; the role of religion in shaping one’s worldview; the influence of foreign aid and charity in local communities; and more.