In Bill Benenson’s brisk and didactic documentary The Hadza: Last of the First, one of the world’s most ancient and traditionally self-sustaining peoples, the Hadza of Tanzania, are shown in the grip of shifting global forces. One child wears a Chieftains T-shirt; a Hadza woman named Wande explains that they’ve begun trading honey for cornmeal, supplanting a diet of game and foraged produce. “They get the better deal,” she says bluntly.
Benenson focuses on the pressures applied to the Hadza by government organizations, NGOs, and neighboring tribes (only about one-third of the 1,000 remaining Hadza practice their traditionally isolated hunter-gatherer lifestyle). This connectedness provides the backbone for Benenson’s narrative, which depends largely on the intervention of a few American and British go-betweens. His most effective link is Alyssa Crittenden, a passionate anthropologist whose rapport with the Hadza women and children — witness her administering medicine and walking with a baby on her hip — proves more compelling than the numerous talking-head interviews. When a Datoga tribesman drives cattle up to drink from a Hadza-owned water source, Crittenden watches from a hillside with a group of Hadza women, calmly narrating the tense situation for the camera.
Last of the First is effective as a classroom tool for conservationist ideals (Jane Goodall herself gives an interview, as does the director of the African branch of the Nature Conservancy), but it fails to interrogate the forces that make those ideals necessary. Benenson tails a safari guide, whose profession is partially blamed for the loss of ancestral Hadza hunting grounds, but leaves the implications of the guide’s presence in the Hadza camp unexamined — a shortsightedness that may make a well-intentioned documentary less than enduring.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 29, 2014