Sundance Film Review: Okavango – River of Dreams (Director’s Cut)
Okavango: River of Dreams (Director’s Cut)
Sundance Film Festival
Director: Dereck Joubert, Beverly Joubert
Okavango: River of Dreams (Director’s Cut) is a nature documentary premiere about its namesake Okavango River in Botswana. That said, I had to put it to the test. You see, when it comes to nature documentaries, there’s the Animal Kingdom dimension that also is a measure of success. For this, I needed my trusty nature-doc buddy: Babyface.
Babyface loves nature documentaries. She has seen all of the Our Planet episodes on Netflix, so it was safe to say that she’d be an authority on Okavango: River of Dreams. She also needs and demands lots of attention, and with my co-kitty-parent/spouse out seeing another Sundance film that evening, whether or not this documentary would catch Babyface’s own attention would be the first proving grounds for Okavango: River of Dreams.
You’re probably wondering how Babyface could get access to a Sundance film screening. Basically, if you’re a Sundance-accredited press member, sometimes a kind publicist will send the press a screener link that’s strictly for review purposes, which was the case for Okavango: River of Dreams. Per the screenshot above, it took Babyface a moment to settle in. We were a little bemused by the intro with the Marilyn Manson cover of The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” and the highly saturated image processing of animal footage. It’s a little chintzy and early-aughts-feeling—a more straightforward introduction could have sufficed.
Once we settle into the documentary, it gets on track. It opens with a hook that enticed Babyface: A lioness hunts a herd of water buffalo with her pride, but she gets injured—a shattered ankle. The pride leaves her for dead, basically. We later see that she has cubs, however, and presses on to survive, for their sake. From there, she was definitely glued. (Continues below.)
The crux of Okavango: River of Dreams is that the river itself affects the hunting and migrational patterns of animal wildlife. At times, the river can form deltas that, in turn, form islands that can strand a herd of elephants until the river shifts again. These situations can pit herds of different animals against each other as they vie to survive—and eat. In the case of our lioness star, who can no longer run to hunt, she uses the flooding river as a new tool to corner slowed-down antelope mired in the water. The beauty of the Okavango River is its enhanced capacity to provide for the life it hosts.
Okavango: River of Dreams depicts the breathtaking ecosystem of the Okavango with impressive videography and crystal-clear, pulled-out shots, many of which could have come from a drone soaring over the landscape. From primates and warthogs on the ground to birds in the sky and trees to fish in the flowing river, it’s a tightly knit macro-organism in itself. As the film depicted the biodiversity of the river, Babyface really settled in and relaxed into viewing the film:
Okavango: River of Dreams even touts director Dereck Joubert’s British-accented narration. While Babyface is a ride-or-die for the legendary David Attenborough, she thinks that Dereck does a great job. His storytelling about the injured lioness was particularly affecting for Babyface: (Continues below.)
I love how Okavango: River of Dreams shows how the lioness responds to adversity. I admire the crew’s commitment to capturing her adaptive response to be able to feed her cubs, and how her riverside environs assist her in her struggle. I equally appreciated the story of the leopard mother and her two cubs as well. It’s completely eye-opening to see big cats without a Fancy Feast packet—or even a Target selling Fancy Feast packets—in sight. –Babyface Hershey M. Ortega Rivera
I agree. Okavango: River of Dreams is a testament to the life and death cycles of this unique wildness. It’s a solid treasure we have on this planet, and here’s to preserving it. Overall, Okavango: River of Dreams will draw you in—perhaps literally:
Feb. 1 // 10:00 p.m // Broadway Centre Cinema 3
Read more of SLUG’s comprehensive coverage of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.