Independent feature shot in West African village has local girls act local issues

Dior and Oumul Kâ play roles inspired by their real lives and sisterly bond in the film Tall as the Baobab Tree.
Photo by Sarah Comber
Jeremy Teicher‘s film Tall as the Baobab Tree was recently screened at the Calgary International Film Festival

Filmed as a window into the daily lives of West Africans, Teicher and his team worked with local villagers to put together a film that would show Western audiences that West Africa is resting on the verge of change, as West African youth become more aware of the conflict between their cultural traditions and ideals belonging to a modern world.

Shot in Senegal, Africa, the leading ladies and real-life sisters Dior and Oumul Kâ play the close-to-home role of sisters Coumba and Debo.

After the sisters’ brother tragically falls from a baobab tree, Debo’s father is forced to sell her into an arranged marriage to pay off the hospital fees.

Coumba refuses to accept the early marriage of her 11-year-old sister and hatches a plan to save Debo from a traditional fate.

“As far back as anyone knew these were the traditions life was lived by,” Teicher says. “It wasn’t early marriage, it was just marriage.”

Produced by Sarah Comber

Rather than exposing early marriage in a negative light, Tall as the Baobab Tree shows a loving family struggling to adapt to a quickly changing world.

“The film allows you to have a fuller understanding of why child marriage happens,” Teicher says.

Tall as the Baobab Tree has screened across North America and Europe in festivals such as the International Film Festival Rotterdam and the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Teicher and his team have also partnered with Girls Not Brides to raise further awareness about early marriage.

Here in Calgary, audience members at the Calgary International Film Festival have varying reactions to the film.

“It makes me really sad that’s their way of life and all it takes is a little bit of money and their whole lives can change,” Jeannette Halasa says after watching the film.

“If they have the opportunity to get an education it can make a huge difference in their lives.”

scomber@cjournal.ca