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DIRECTED BY: William Campbell
FEATURING: Sir Hubert Winstead, Arthur Clayton; narrated by Louis Nizor
PLOT: Some early 20th-century explorers dick around Africa until they discover a tribe that makes an annual donation of women to the local gorillas.
COMMENTS: I have a deadly drinking game for you: gather your friends around and take a shot every time the narrator says “primitive” and “our boys” in reference to the African locals encountered by and doing the hard work for the pipe-smoking white guys out on safari. Considering the subject matter (ethnographic documentary) and time period (colonialism’s last big hurrah), Ingagi deserves a lot of criticism for its casual racism and mustache-twirling indifference to wildlife (another drinking prompt: animals captured or killed for “our collection”). But even just viewed cinematically, Ingagi comes across as an affront to its genre.
The film opens with an extended bit of print concerning the expedition and its ostensible ultimate findings: a lost tribe of Africa that donates a woman or two from its ranks every year to the local gorilla population to act as sex slaves. The filmmakers make an extended acknowledgement of the bravery of the cameramen, remarking on “[t]heir cold grit in the face of danger; their unflinching nerve in the tightest of places, supported solely by their faith in our ability to shoot straight, enabled them to carry on with but one thought in mind–The Picture.” As a student of documentary, I can appreciate this atypical shout-out.
But as that same student, I take issue with most of everything else. The creators kick off by telling the story instead of showing it, a problem worsened by the images being given zero reliable context. That’s sinful enough. However, even my uninformed observation could tell that Ingagi was comprised of two sets of footage. Most footage had a grainy, warped feel—this was genuine, if given a flagrant bias through narration. But about a quarter of the footage was nice and clean—and very staged. This was apparently made exclusively for Ingagi somewhere in California.
Ingagi claims to be a documentary, so here are some raw facts. Of its eighty-two minutes, three-quarters were lifted from an earlier film called Heart of Africa. The false premise of human brides for gorillas, concocted for sensationalist purposes, prompted the MPPDA (fore-runner to the current “MPA”) to disavow it after release. And Ingagi would have you believe that the white man was only swanning into remote African communities to rid the locals of unwanted jungle predators. If you want a more even-handed version of the “African Safari” phenomenon present in early documentaries, I recommend instead you enjoy Captain Geoffrey T. Spaulding’s anecdote in Animal Crackers (incidentally, also a 1930 release). His ripping yarn about whitey putzing around the Savannah waiting to shoot things hits the nail more squarely on the head.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: