on a Swiss alp:
Snowcapped mountains veiled in a light haze, blue skies, rich meadows,
fat cows. Cowbells are ringing. A man is sitting on a rock, trying
to attract the animal silently to him. The picture could result kitschy
if it weren't for the fact that the herdsman is a Peul from Burkina
Faso, wearing a turban to protect him from the cold.
This image is about midway of the film Encounters on the Milky Way
and shows in a poetic way what it is about: It is about people who
find the familiar in the unfamiliar and sometimes also the unfamiliar
in the familiar.
Encounters on the Milky Way" shows three cattle breeders from
Mali and Burkina Faso during their trip to Switzerland where they
meet with two dairy farmers from the Swiss Lake District and a cheese
manufacturer in the Berne's Oberland. Back in their homeland, they
tell their friends and neighbors about their experiences.
film is neither a chronological document of this trip, nor a stringing
of contrasts between the "rich" north
and the "poor" south. It is more about discovering the
common ground. The perceptions of Dicko and Heimberg about what
exactly is progress are certainly different, but both being successful
agrarian entrepreneurs they still manage to find a common thread.
Heimberg and the bio farmer Hurter are both masters on the capitalistic
agrarian market, but differentiate in the their attitudes toward
cattle and cattle breeding. Finally, Hurter and Ly, the African
reason differently about the relationship between men and cows,
but are together in the discussion about the soul of the animal.
the film strings the different shooting locations in West Africa
and in Switzerland together into one single place that is defined
thematically, not geographically. Even though the spectators get
an impression of life in the West African Peul - at a cow festival
or the river crossing of an enormous herd, at the daily milking of
a family in the Savanna and at a small milk factory, at assemblies
in the village and a meeting of the cattle breeders of the Sahel
- all this happens in passing. "Encounters on the Milky Way" is
not a movie about Africa or even about Swiss dairy farmers and cheese
manufacturers. It this was the expectation, it is soon destroyed
by the unconventional editing which easily joins together African
scenes with Swiss locations - cowsheds, farms, alpine cheese factories,
cattle shows, industrial dairy farms. Sometimes the spectators need
a few seconds to realize where they are, a freeing experience.
The dramatization of "Encounters on the Milky Way" is defined
by the subject of the film: the relationship of men to the cows and
as such to nature, their handling of milk and its market, their thoughts
about their values and progress.
The film begins with the different impressions of the Swiss about
Africa and the Africans about Switzerland. This is followed by loosely
connected subjects: The relationship between men and animal; the
cow as bearer of social projections; opinions about good cattle breeding.
The work of the milker and the manufacturing of the milk products;
discussions about the quantity of milk, breeding and artificial insemination;
feeding and water; market and globalization.
Editing and dramatization allow the director to frequently change
the point of view about a subject. The spectator becomes witness
of the mixture of admiration and repulsion with which the African
cattle breeders look at the big udders of Swiss high performance
cows. Excess seems suddenly exotic. Shortly afterwards, we see the
enormous herds of rich cattle breeders of the Sahel. Excess plays
also a role here and is recognized by the Africans as such including
the detrimental results for the overused pastures. "We don't
have the same problems," says Amadou Dicko, a cattle breeder
form Burkina Faso, "but everybody has problems."
the director uses all possible levels of conversations during the
encounters in Africa and Switzerland. On the one hand,
there are the excerpts of interviews of the director with the
protagonists. On the other hand, while the filmmakers remain
quietly observing in the background, the direct encounters between
the three cattle breeders from the Sahel and the Swiss farmers
take place. In these instances, they meet in pairs: Boubacar
Sadou Ly, a veterinary trained in Toulouse, founder of the Association
of Cattle Breeders of the Sahel in Burkina Faso, visits the farm
of Bio Farmer Hurter. Amadou Dicko, a rural cattle breeder from
Burkina Faso, meets with Hanspeter Reus, the owner of a cheese
factory, whose ambition is to look for markets to export his
products. Hamadoun Dicko, also from Burkina Faso, but living
in the capital Ouagadougou and the trading city of Bobo Doulasso,
owns several big herds and is paired off with the big farmer
from the Swiss Lake District Hanspeter Heimberg. A central point
is the third level: The exchange, observations and thoughts of
the Africans between them. Threading throughout the film, there
is the shot showing Amadou Dicko and Hamadoun Dicko on the backseat
of the car, observing the countryside and commenting them in
their language. Back in West Africa, curious family members and
fellow cattle breeders are besieging the travelers. Their reminiscences
trigger general merriment that is contagious.
But Amadou Dicko,
Hamadoun Dicko and Boubacar Ly do not take the same stories home
from Switzerland. The special attraction of "Encounters
on the Milky Way" is the different points of view of each
protagonist, who become familiar characters to the spectator. Amadou
Dicko is always amazed about the farms, the dairy manufacturers,
the deep freeze storage, the roads and forests in Switzerland and
about the country as a whole. Hamadoun Dicko evaluates realistically
what can be learned and what would not be fitting for West Africa.
Boubacar Ly on the other hand, is convinced that the western materialism
forcibly leads into a cul-de-sac. He visited Switzerland out of
his own initiative in order to participate in assemblies and to
plead on behalf of the Association of Cattle Breeder of the Sahel
for humane and more efficient livestock farming.
on the Milky Way" takes
as its scheme the technical and social progress with its cost to
is a question for African cattle breeders as well as for Swiss
livestock farmers and milk-merchants. The progressive desertification
and climatic changes, as well as the new, democratic organizations
of the producers are the impulse for change in the Sahel. In Switzerland
it is the liberalization of the agrarian market, concentration
of ownership, globalization, the possible strategy of diversification.
the Swiss cattle breeders answer these and similar questions differently
for Swiss or European spectators: The bio
farmer Ueli Hurter rejects artificial insemination and intensive
breeding the way farmer Heimberg practices it. Through the choices
of the African cattle breeders and their different evaluations
and opinions "Encounters on the Milky Way" reveals that
the discussions about how much emulation is necessary and how much
progress on its own is possible in order to master the unequal
speed of development of the African and Western Society, are evolving
along pluralistic lines.