In the early 1990s, Swiss-American Manhattan-based artist Ernst Aebi, a distinctively New York eccentric, decided to invest a good amount of his fortune, acquired through selling converted lofts in the then-hot downtown housing market on some less-than-prime real estate. Araouane, an ancient oasis city in Mali’s Sahara desert, was being swallowed by the dunes, its centuries of multi-cultural history sinking below the sands, and Aebi stepped forth to help. Working with the local population of ex-slaves, he and several aid agencies banded together to bring Araouane water, food, gardens, and the assistance necessary to help this weigh station for the famous desert-crossing Tuareg survive. Then war came and, with it, an end to the restoration of Araouane. Twenty years later Aebi returned to “his town” with aid workers, a military escort, and director Martina Egi who has captured the whole story in a documentary premiering tonight called “Barefoot to Timbuktu”.
As the New York Times notes in their review of the documentary, Aebi isn’t exactly a Mother Teresa or Albert Schweitzer. He comes off as too self-involved, too irascible, too New York to appear as a saint. But, like Philippe Petit in “Man on Wire”, the visions of egoists often elevate us all (provided the visionary in question imagines good things for the world). Even if Aebi is tilting at windmills in the Sahara, watching him and Egi move from the streets of SoHo to the sands of Africa is a world-spanning tour you can take from the comfort of a cinema seat, no head wrap required.
For a journey through Africa via music, pick up a copy of our “Music + Travel” guide or tour the continent through favorite movies like “The English Patient” and “The Gods Must Be Crazy” with our “Film + Travel” book.
“Barefoot to Timbuktu”
Now through February 18, 2010
34 West 13th Street
New York, New York, U.S.A.
For more information on the film and further screenings go to www.barefoot2timbuktu.com.
Images courtesy of MPI Media Productions.