I’m a fan of adventure travel films, especially when they feature motorcycles, and especially when there’s a big do-it-yourself theme. So, when I saw a note about African Odyssey, I lined up a copy to review.
The film starts with a simple premise: Four young men from New Zealand ship their motorcycles to Cape Town, South Africa, and then ride north to London, England. They’re all relatively inexperienced riders, on a bare-bones budget, but mundane facts like that don’t seem to worry them much.
Naturally, they’re soon bogged down by the standard issues that bedevil adventure riders: flat tires, broken-down bikes, red tape at border crossings, and homicidal traffic. To move forward, as always in these films, the Kiwi quartet needs a mixture of pluck and bodged-together repairs.
It’s very interesting to watch this film after seeing some other entries in the DIY adventure riding genre, particularly Mondo Enduro and Terra Circa. Those films were shot in 1995/1996 and 2001, respectively. The filmmakers used old-school camera equipment, and at times, knew nothing about the areas they traveled through.
Flash forward to 2006, when Phillip Anderson, Nic Twaddle, Julian Kardos, and Jeremy Gray are taking on the African continent. At this point, consumer-grade digital camera gear makes it far easier to film adventures; thanks to the Internet, there’s a lot more information on adventure riding available — the adventure has changed. There’s still plenty of danger and uncertainty, there’s still lots of bad terrain and hard mileage, there are still pyramids, deserts, and African animals to see, but it seems the experience has changed.
It makes it even more interesting to chart the further progression of the DIY adventure film genre to today, with videos like Ed March’s C90 Adventures series. Ed isn’t out there blazing new trails, he’s out there riding to places people are already familiar with, but now he’s handicapped himself with another layer of difficulty, by riding a beat-up step-through. Is this the natural progression of adventure riding — when the riding gets easier, we need to find another way to make it more difficult?
Back to the DVD. African Odyssey is a fine example of an adventure on a budget. It’s an enjoyable watch, especially in mid-winter, when the average Canadian motorcyclist can’t go anywhere on two wheels.
If you’re interested in riding through developing countries, it’s very helpful to take notes when you see a movie like this, as you can see what works for the riders, and what doesn’t. It’s also easy to get in touch with grassroots filmmakers, so if you have further questions, a bit of Google-fu will put you in contact with them. Wondering how they liked their luggage setup? Which tire tubes worked best? Which equipment and clothes did they end up not needing? These are the sorts of questions that will make your own adventures easier, and watching a movie like this can be very educational if you’re planning your own trans-continental jaunt.
It’s especially comforting to note that, while this trip was almost entirely outside these riders’ comfort zone, everybody survived. If they can do it, you can too.
However, the film is not without its flaws, mostly due to its DIY nature. While viewing, I never really bonded with any of the riders; we aren’t given their backstories, or much insight into their personalities, or their skills that helped them survive. This might be partly why the storytelling isn’t as immersive as some other similar films.
The video quality isn’t high-definition, but that’s forgivable, considering the equipment used and the budget the film was shot under. The sound quality is dodgy, too, and that’s more frustrating, as these kinds of stories are dialogue-driven.
It makes it a bit disappointing that the four men behind the film haven’t done anything similar since, as a follow-up film probably would show a lot of improvement in both their roadcraft and their filmcraft, as that’s often the case with this film genre. It’s much easier to forgive the flaws of a first film if there’s a good follow-up that shows the creators realized their mistakes, and learned from them.
Would I buy it with my own money? Probably, but I’m a sucker for this sort of movie; I’d recommend any else take a good look at the trailer first, before spending their dosh. If you want to get a copy for yourself, the best way I know of getting it is to message the filmmaker through his Facebook page; pricing will depend on shipping charges, etc., as the only way it seems possible to get a copy is from New Zealand by mail.