×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Miami Film Review: ‘In Search of Voodoo: Roots to Heaven’

Beninese actor Djimon Hounsou goes behind the camera for this scattered but compellingly impassioned ode to a misunderstood religion.

Director:
Djimon Hounsou

1 hour 5 minutes

We’re overdue a substantial documentary on Voodoo, an intricate, specific, sociologically complex belief system that, in common parlance, has long been relegated to common-noun status — unfairly denoting a shadowy realm of imaginary mumbo-jumbo propagated by pulp fiction and B-movies. Beninese actor Djimon Hounsou takes it upon himself to set the record straight in “In Search of Voodoo: Roots to Heaven,” and if his directorial debut has a few unresolved edges, it makes a persuasive case for a thorough re-examination of its subject: Working inside out from his personal affiliation with West African Voodooism to a broader study of the culture it has bred across the diaspora, this 65-minute film is vivid and heartfelt when it stays close to home, but could stand more anthropological analysis in the long view.

Colorfully presented and benefiting considerably from Hounsou’s obvious personal magnetism, this Miami Film Festival premiere will slot nicely into African- or diaspora-themed festival programs, where it will continue to inspire enthusiastic post-screening discussions. Theatrical prospects are limited, but VOD outlets will make room for its grabby subject and name attachment, which, along with its brief running time, might prove conducive to broadcast in History Channel-type settings.

“Voodoo is the channel between humanity and the forces of nature,” Hounsou tells us in voiceover toward the end of the film — one of several statements here that invites further academic unpacking, but advances a more upbeat, elemental understanding of Voodoo than most viewers will bring to the film, one divorced from the inscrutable occult implications that Hounsou primarily illustrates with cheesy Hollywood film clips and digital voodoo-doll graphics. “In Search of Voodoo” is most compelling when it’s vexedly on the defense, taking down this kind of manufactured mythology and calling out the western racial prejudice that has led to such misrepresentation.  Hounsou instead advances the welcome theory of “Afro-optimism” as he calls for the continent to claim control of how its history and traditions are represented internationally.

The film is on surer ground when addressing what Voodoo is not than when attempting to map out what it is — no easy feat, given how the original tenets of the belief system have splintered into subtly different religious practices in its Haitian, Brazilian and Louisiana variations, among others. Even as a professed origin story, with Hounsou returning to his Benin homeland to investigate both his own heritage and those of the indigenous religion that, for his family and many others, was minimized by Christian conversion, “In Search of Voodoo” is perhaps a bit diffuse for its slender form — its discussion bouncing from personal reflection to relayed history and folklore to contemporary environmental activism.

If it’s overstuffed, however, it certainly doesn’t want for engaging lines of thought, as a panoply of talking heads — ranging from academics to real-life Voodoo queens — rounds out Hounsou’s first-person narration, somewhat heavily written with co-producer Douglas Thompson. The script is peppered with wafty ruminations (“Was I playing a skillful game with chance, or was chance playing a skillful game with me?”) that Hounsou, ever an actor of stern, unflappable conviction, lends more gravitas than they strictly deserve.

Technically, give or take some slightly gaudy graphics, “In Search of Voodoo” is a bright, lively package, efficiently edited to a fault, and given a lick of occasionally inspired beauty by the presence of renowned editorial photographer Kwaku Alston behind the camera. Alston’s iridescent, immersive footage of celebratory Voodoo rituals and dance routines in Benin calls for an expanded, National Geographic-style documentary all its own, though as Hounsou consistently makes clear, there’s a bigger picture to be revised and understood first.

Miami Film Review: 'In Search of Voodoo: Roots to Heaven'

Reviewed at Miami Film Festival (Knight Documentary Achievement Award), March 10, 2018. Running time: 65 MIN.

Production: (Documentary — U.S.-Benin) A Fanaticus Entertainment presentation. Producers: Djimon Hounsou, Eric McGaw. Executive producers: Hounsou, Lionel Talon.

Crew: Director: Djimon Hounsou. Writers: Hounsou, Douglas Thompson. Camera (color, widescreen): Kwaku Alston. Editor: Thompson.

More Film

  • Colin Firth

    Cannes: Colin Firth WWII Drama 'Operation Mincemeat' Sells Out Internationally (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Operation Mincemeat,” a buzzy World War II drama that stars Colin Firth, has sold out international territories at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Warner Bros. has picked up several key markets, as has Central and Eastern European distributor Prorom. The film reunites Firth with John Madden, his “Shakespeare in Love” director. FilmNation Entertainment and Cross [...]

  • Meikincine Scoops Three Titles at Cannes

    Meikincine Scoops Three More Titles at Cannes Film Market (EXCLUSIVE)

    Lucia and Julia Meik’s boutique sales company Meikincine has announced three acquisitions out of this year’s Cannes Film Market: Gaspar Scheuer’s “Delfin”- which world premiered in the Cannes Écrans Juniors Competition; Marcelo Paez Cubells’ “Which”– part of this year’s Blood Window Showcase for films in progress; Sebastián Mega Díaz’s romantic comedy “The Big Love Picture.” [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Documentarian Patricio Guzman On Chilean Soul And Mountains

    CANNES — Renowned Chilean documentary filmmaker  Patricio Guzmán (“The Battle of Chile,” “The Pearl Button”) has returned to the country to shoot “The Cordillera of Dreams,” 46 years after he was exiled under Augusto Pinochet’s regime of terror. The feature has received a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival. Sold by Paris’ Pyramide International, [...]

  • Picture Tree Intl. Inks First Deals

    Cannes: Picture Tree Intl. Inks First Deals on 'Traumfabrik' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Picture Tree Intl. has clinched first deals on romantic drama “Traumfabrik,” which is produced by Tom Zickler, the former producing partner of German star Till Schweiger. The film has been picked up by Leomus in China; Flins & Piniculas in Spain; LEV Films/Shani Film in Israel; Taiwan in Moviecloud; Media Squad in Czech Rep., Hungary [...]

  • Cannes Film Review: 'Alice and the

    Cannes Film Review: 'Alice and the Mayor'

    Sophomore director Nicolas Pariser follows his politically engaged debut, “The Great Game,” with an even deeper plunge into the disconnect between political theory and the workings of government in the unmistakably French “Alice and the Mayor.” Deeply influenced by Eric Rohmer in the way it aspires to use philosophical dialogue to reveal something about the [...]

  • 'Diego Maradona' Review: The Football Legend

    Cannes Film Review: 'Diego Maradona'

    You expect the director of a biographical documentary to have a passion for whoever he’s making a movie about. But the British filmmaker Asif Kapadia spins right past passion and into obsession. He doesn’t just chronicle a personality — he does an immersive meditation on it. Kapadia plunges into the raw stuff of journalism: news [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content