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Faith in Practice

If the kids are united...

Four years ago, novelist and Thought for the Dayer Rhidian Brook took his family around Africa's AIDS hotspots in a Salvation Army project funded by Rupert Murdoch. He returned to write Africa United, a film in which three Rwandan kids walk 3,000 miles to the World Cup.

FiP.jpgThe film came about when the producers Mark Blaney and Jackie Sheppard, and the director Debs Gardner-Paterson, were making a short film called We Are All Rwandans. While they were there, they met Eric Kabera, a producer
in Rwanda, who was helping them with that.
He had mentioned this idea that he had about some guys getting to the World Cup from Rwanda, and his idea was a bit more comic than what we ended up with, a bit more like Cool Runnings [a film based on the story of the Jamaican national bobsled team's début at the 1988 Winter Olympics]. He's not a writer, but he wrote a script about this team getting to the finals and their best player not being selected and making the journey.
So when we had the first meeting, we discussed it and I wasn't totally enamoured with the idea, but the producers could see - and so could I - that there was something else in there, and that was the importance of the journey. If we made it about kids, then we could figuratively go places too - and get away from football, because football really is a McGuffin in this film. It's important, but that's not what it's about.

Message vs. entertainment
It has turned out to be more of a family film than I expected. You could have weighted it differently, in terms of how you filmed certain scenes, but it had to be no worse than a 12A contractually and I think 12A is probably about right. It could possibly be a PG, but there are guns and there are reference to sex workers and stuff. But I didn't want to not have those things. That was the balance. Characters were really the key to making that element work.  
I really hope people will taste and smell Africa and get a feel for the greatness of it, especially the life, the liveliness of it, which you find in the children. Primarily, it's entertainment; it wasn't written as an issues film. But if people come away with a better idea of what some of the issues are, then that will be great.

Two trips
The very first thing in my mind was that the main kid would die and AIDS would be the cause, and that all came out of a trip that I did four years ago. I always wondered if there would be more that came out of that trip and this, I guess, was that. Whereas a few thousand people might read my book1, hopefully a few million people will see this film.
I couldn't have written it without that trip we did four years ago, but I don't think, equally, that I could have done it as clearly, with as much confidence, if I hadn't done a road trip. We did two big road trips and took in all the countries in the film. I was experiencing Africa in a different light on that final trip. It was a bit more upbeat, really. I was able to pick up the texture of the place and stuff that was fresh in my mind.
I think the difference between changing landscapes really does come through in the film. That was always the hope. No film has ever been shot in Burundi before; this was the first feature ever made there. I just wanted people to see how beautiful it was.
I'm really glad I did it. I nearly didn't do it; I didn't think I would be able to take the time out or get out there, but it was key.         

The faith element               
This is a highly speculative enterprise. It's great that the film is in the cinemas, coming soon and all those things, but it was a bit of a gamble. That said I think it probably was less of a gamble in my mind because of my faith.
I've always tried to take the view that if I can do more than just earn a living, I'm going to write about things I really want to write about, and hold out for those things. Then the writing and the faith work well together.
The challenge is to disguise it somehow. Not be ashamed of it, but be clever about it. This film was not overtly about faith, although it is about hope, and people of faith might see something more in it that's there; people who are not of faith will still be able to enjoy it.         

Extra time: football
Football is carnival in Africa, especially the big four English teams (or the big four that were - that's probably going to change soon) and Real Madrid and Barcelona. Those are the teams that all the kids know about and talk about. It's absolutely ubiquitous in Africa. It's quite striking actually, when you are there. So it's quite possible that there are kids who think they want to be Arsene Wenger, like Dudu does in the film.
I'm really a rugby man, actually. I shouldn't say that, should I? I've been following Bolton Wanderers for the last 20 years though, thanks to my friend Scully, who comes from Bolton. He said, 'I don't promise you a bed of roses, but it will be a rollercoaster ride' - and it was!

Rhidian Brook was talking to Derek Walker

More Than Eyes Can See tells of Brook's first African experiences.

Africa United is due for release on October 22.