Part travelogue, part cultural anthropology, and part football history, Director Richard Shepherd’s film Laduma! Benin’s Journey captures an insider’s view as a small African nation tries to qualify for WC 2010.
Benin is a poor country located next to Ghana on the West coast of Africa. Its people are so poor that most have not even visited another African country. Benin’s major product is cotton, and before that it was slaves. As the kingdom of Dahomey, its rulers exported 20% of the slaves sent to the New World, who also took with them the religion of vodun (voodoo).
Benin’s national team, known as The Squirrels, has no big name players. Most compete in African leagues, and those who play in Europe are largely in 2nd to 4th tier leagues in France. The biggest names are Stéphane Sessègnon (PSG, Sunderland, West Brom) and Razak Omotoyossi (FC Metz). Players such as Rouald Boco talk openly of their struggles to make a living in soccer. Hanging over the players’ head is the knowledge that a loss can turn the fans’ wrath against them.
Adrian Healey deftly narrates the games and the quest. Locker room scenes include manager Michel Dussuyer’s pep talks. Using the ET! talking head format, fan perspectives are provided by Grammy-winner Angélique Kidjo and two of Bob Marley’s sons (Rohan and Ziggy; Rohan played professional American football).
A subtext of the film is unity. Soccer and sports build camaraderie among players, and fans cheering on the national team unites the different tribes and cultures of Benin.
A little interaction with the Director
Director Richard Shepherd made several trips to Africa on his own dime in order to film the team.
“Documentaries are a labor of love… if it makes money or enlightens some people, bonus.”– Director Richard Shepherd
Note: laduma, or laduuuumaaaa! is a popular African cheer equivalent to “Goooaaal!”, and literally translates as “it thunders” in the Zulu language.
This film, more than any other African soccer film that I’ve seen so far, makes me want to visit Africa!
7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7