Tanzania: A Journey Within follows two friends from the United States to Africa: one a young Tanzanian man, Venance Ndibalema, who is returning home, the other his lively American friend, Kristen Kenney, who is eager to have inspiring experiences in idyllic Africa.
This documentary is often cruel to Kenney, who displays a level of clueless naïveté astounding even for an innocent abroad. Kenney seems to never have had a brush with death or despair in any form; it seems possible she’s never read a novel or the newspaper.
She experiences the trip through a lens always focused on herself: “This is by far the coolest thing I’ve ever done!” on the slopes of Kilimanjaro; “I’m in frickin’ Africa!” as she is driven past animals on the Serengeti. Kenney is an excellent stand-in for exactly what foreigners think of when they think of Americans: ignorant, shallow, narcissistic.
And while she ruminates often about the contrast between her expectations and her experiences, she seems at a loss whenever Ndibalema expresses deep emotions about his past or his return. But Kenney is also open-minded and good-hearted, and she eventually comes to terms with her sheltered status. Trouble is, it’s mostly pointless.
This film shows what was clearly a profound set of experiences for both Ndibalema and Kenney, but it is not much more than a well-made vacation slideshow or an extended Facebook post, complete with exclamation points.