Art

Dan Eldon comes to life in riveting film

Dan at Home working on his journals which served as basis for bio-pic. PHOTO | COURTESY
Dan at Home working on his journals which served as basis for bio-pic. PHOTO | COURTESY  

The Journey is the Destination is an astonishing film. Screened for the first time in Nairobi last Friday night at the International School of Kenya, the feature film is exceptional for several reasons.

First and foremost, it’s a labour of love orchestrated by a mother who apparently moved heaven and earth to ensure the film was made, and made with tender loving care and a professionalism that’s impressive.
So much so I hope it wins independent film awards.

Kathy Eldon wasn’t in East Africa at the time that her only son, Dan, died tragically in Mogadishu in 1993. Dan was just 22 but he was already recognised as a brilliant photojournalist who’d landed himself a job at Reuters, one of the most renowned media services in the world.

The story of his daring work as well as his demise along with three other journalists, including Kenyans Hos Maina and Anthony Macharia, was widely publicised in the international media at the time.

Based on the first three journals created by Dan, it still took a mother to flesh out details of how he’d found himself in Mogadishu right at that pivotal moment when the Americans’ mission in Somalia changed from being humanitarian to becoming militarised.

That fateful change would enflame the local population which had previously been so fond of Dan they’d nicknamed him Mayor of Mogadishu.

But the terms of endearment ended suddenly as Somalis’ rage, reacting to the Americans’ aerial assaults, unleashed the cruel violence that ended Dan’s, Hos’, Anthony’s and Hansi Krauss’ lives in the blink of an eye.

The Journey is the Destination is ultimately painful and poignant to watch, particularly at the movie’s climax.

But that’s another reason I found the film remarkable, knowing Kathy must’ve been intimately involved in the storytelling.

In the film credits, she’s not listed as a screen writer. But she and her daughter Amy’s Creative Visions Foundation is credited with being a co-producer of the film.

That explains for me how The Journey could paint such an intimate portrait of this imaginative, idealistic and multi-talented young man. In fact, what we see in the film is a fun-loving lad who was also a natural leader capable of ‘‘chaperoning’’ a lorry-load of age-mates on safari from Nairobi to Malawi. Their mission as defined by Dan was to deliver food aid and other bare-boned essentials to Mozambican refugees displaced by the war in Southern Africa.

Initially, I found it eerie to watch a full length feature film on Dan (played by Ben Schnetzer). I hadn’t known what to expect but once I realised The Journey is the Destination was more like creative non-fiction than documentary, I settled in and got fully engrossed in his colourful life story.

MOST ASTOUNDING

What I was also amazed to see was the way Kathy was portrayed by actress Maria Bello in the film. She was nearly as friendly and flamboyant as Kathy is in real life. But the film also conveyed Dan’s profound disappointment at his mother’s decision to leave home for London and another man.

Most astounding is when he visits her in London and she begs him not to go back to Mogadishu.

He says he can’t comply with her wish any more than she could comply with his, when he’d asked her not to leave him and their home.

That level of emotional honesty is ultimately what made The Journey is the Destination so touching and indeed so tragic.

Cinematic devices employed in the movie-making were also first class, but it was the storytelling that cinched my appreciation of Dan’s bio-pic.