Double feature: Some people travel to foreign countries hoping to be transformed by them; others do so with the aim of transforming, however temporarily, the places to which they sojourn. “When We Were Kings” and “Hearts of Darkness” both tell stories of men in the latter category.
Both of these documentaries center on endeavors of unbelievable ambition, perhaps even hubris, pursued for the sake of private glory and public entertainment. The scale and audacity of these undertakings is more than staggering – it is almost unthinkable in our world of micro-projects, backup plans, and homogenizing digital safety nets.
We watch these men unleash their plans on their foreign landscapes, and then watch with increased attention as the foreign landscapes, and inhabitants, react to them. Both films provide instructive, in many ways inspiring, examples of how to deal with delays, setbacks, the unexpected. Both explore the benefits – and limits – of tenacity and flexibility, implicitly asking when resolve turns into stubbornness, and when adaptability turns into betrayal.
In both films, interviewees eloquently recount the exploits of their younger selves, and their colleagues, with a touching mixture of affection and bemusement. They chuckle as they relate their stories, laughing at the unreality of the reality they witnessed, lived through, and now retell.
In both films, dreamers and plotters descend on another country that they conceive of as nothing more than an atmospheric staging area for their projects, a set to which they will bring the action. And in both, these same schemers leave humbled and transformed by the dimensionality and flavor of a country they’ve come to recognize as alive – for its own sake, on its own terms.
(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “.curt.” and “TF28” at Flickr)