Dir: Elaine Proctor. South Africa-UK. 2000. 90 mins.
Prod co: Bard Entertainments. Co-prods: BSkyB, British Screen, Arts Council of England. Int'l Sales: Regent Entertainment Int'l (001 310 260 3333). Exec prod: Miles Donnelly. Prod: Margaret Matheson. Scr: Proctor. Dop: Amelia Vincent. Prod des: Mark Wilby. Ed: Nicholas Gaster. Music: Justin Adams. Main cast: Miranda Otto, Isaiah Washington, Chris Chameleon, Moses Kandjoze.
Intelligently conceived and magnificently shot, Kin is an ambitious and impressive project which raises many questions but doesn't quite achieve its intended emotional impact. Some work on clarifying and sharpening the script might have built it to a stronger dramatic climax at the end, when the lead character makes the decision to sacrifice the two of the beings she most loves. Even so, Kin can confidently expect plenty of further festival bookings and a lively career on the arthouse circuit.
Anna (Otto) lives with her brother, a Lutheran pastor (Chameleon) in the remote Namibian desert, where she works for the wildlife conservation services. Yet her passion for protecting the local elephants, which she regards as part of her family, brings her into constant conflict with the Himba tribe which poaches the animals for their ivory and sees them as both a physical and an economic threat.
Her life is further complicated by the arrival of Stone (Washington), a black American traveller cut off from his own roots by his upward mobility. They fall in love, provoking extreme jealousy in Anna's brother and a crisis for her when she required to choose between accompanying Stone back to Chicago or staying in the country which has always been her home.
The film explores a world in which people are not what they immediately seem - the black man who is a high-powered American attorney not a South African tribesman; the intimate male companion who is a brother not a lover - and issues, notably those of conservation and kinship, much more complex than one would like them to be.
Otto is engaging though perhaps a little lightweight in the central role, while other performances are patchy, in part because the supporting characters are too numerous for all to register strongly. Stunning CinemaScope imagery turns Africa herself into a dominant player.