Song from the Forest REVIEW


Screening at the 2015 Audi Festival of German Films. For festival tickets and session details visit the official website HERE.

Song from the Forest - review

Song from the Forest (2013) has finally found its way to the Australian film festival circuit after winning Best Feature-Length Documentary at the Amsterdam Film Festival the year of its release. Holding true to the content views of most niche festivals, this gem will most likely and sadly go unnoticed by the majority of the film-going public. First playing at Tasmania’s Breathe of Fresh Air film festival in late 2014, the film (directed by Michael Obert) will play at this year’s German Film Festival.

Louis Sarno is one of those interesting but reclusive characters that documentary makers dream of finding. Sarno has lived on and off with the Bayaka Pygmies in the Central African Rainforest since the 1980s, during which time he has married a Bayaka woman and fathered two sons.

First coming to the community with the intention to record traditional Bayaka music, Sarno stayed on after finding himself welcomed in. At the time of filming, Sarno is a highly valued member of the village; though increasingly in his twenty-five years there his income source has come to be of the most value, something that Sarno is both confused and lost by.


Having familial ties to the community, his once awe of the tranquillity has been replaced by the stress of being the financer of many of the villager’s needs. Not that Sarno gives that impression; he mentions in the film several times how village life has changed his temperament. His failing health is mentioned, like many moments in the film, in passing and jokingly, merely a fact that perhaps Sarno long ago resigned himself to.

Sarno and his director friend Jim Jarmusch reunite in New York City when Sarno comes on a long-ago promised trip with his son. Jim Jarmusch is a perfect addition to the documentary narrative; his recent film Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) has a similar theme of being on the fringes of a society you can’t relate to. It is clear why they have remained friends since college, as Jarmusch talks directly to the camera about Sarno’s work in a similar measured way.

song from the forest

The issue of western disillusionment is hinted at but never angrily criticized, and while Sarno personally prefers living in the jungle, he can only look on as his new community becomes tempted by globalisation’s wares. His son, Samedi, while in New York is particularly adamant that Sarno buy him a gun he was promised. Back home in Central Africa, male Bayaka villagers consume substances as night falls so they can stay awake and catch poachers.

The Bayaka village is at once delightful and despairing to see on screen (depending on which way you are inclined to view jungle living). Two young Bayaka boys are shown dancing naked in a mud puddle in a manner so joyful, you would feel guilty for ever crying in a toy store. It is in glimpses at the village children, and in Sarno’s son, Samedi, that the audience sees what is at stake for the Bayaka, and probably what hooked Sarno from his first visit.

While Sarno might have heard beautiful melodies in Pygmy music and their way of life, Song from the Forest is a film haunted with the knowledge that the rest of the world might be tone deaf.