NOVA: Master of the Killer Ants
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(Mar 04, 2008)
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In the Mandaras Mountains of northern Cameroon live the Mofu - an ancient tribe that shares its homes and crops with insects in a mutual balance of survival. But this year, a terrible drought has hit the region and a legion of termites has invaded their huts and granaries. To drive them out, the Mofu shaman calls for help from Jaglavak, a ferocious red army ant protected by a thick carapace and armed with pincers that cut, tear and slice through anything in its path. Filmed in an intimate style that reveals the traditional customs of the Mofu shaman and the villagers who depend on him, Master of the Killer Ants also uses stunning macro photography to go underground, giving us a terrifying up-close look at a termite's fortress and the war that rages between termites and Jaglavak. Winner of best film awards at the Shanghai Film Festival and Japan s Wildlife Film Festival.Special DVD features include: materials and activities for educators; a link to the NOVA Web site; scene selections; closed captions; and described video for the visually impaired.
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Perhaps, negative reviewers of this film should one day be responsible for going into a non-English village and shooting/writing/filming/marketing/networking/airing a beautiful story like, "Master of the Killer Ants." It is always easy to criticize than it is to create a masterpiece; especially an entertaining-educational program with a perfect beginning, middle, and end. In fact, more of the world should celebrate rain or water, and have more harmonious relationships with their environments, as this film cleverly pictured.
Usually NOVA can be relied upon to get the science right and leave viewers with a strong sense of the science side of mixed practices. Unfortunately, this video has the aroma of cultural relativism. While the science is not derided, it remains contaminated.
The setting is the Cameroon and the Mofu people. They depend on millet/sorghum which in turn depends on rain.
Black ants and termites both eat the millet. The army ant named "jaglavak" is the biocontrol. But this narrative is mixed with local legends. The termites also cause substantial house damage. These tropical termites are sizeable and good photography explores the mounds and tunnels to expose soldiers, workers and the queen in a useful 5 minute segment. In the village schools, schoolchildren study "invertebrates" and termite castes in French. The drought is considered due to human offenses, leading to rituals with "rain stones," clearing of land, rains, and appeal to the sacred mountain spirit. Children hunt for the jaglavak ant. They collect ants and introduce them to the termite mound. Eventually there is a battle between ants and termites but the storyline is obviously contrived, which is easily detected by young students and a problem for the usually reliable NOVA Series.
I won't have the money for it for a few weeks but I plan on purchasing it, for sure!!
NOVA stuck to their guns and showed the life style as it probably really is, which is scraping survival out of the bleak existence of Western African Cameroon. They did the best they could, I imagine it is hard to film in conflict countries without maintaining some political correctness with the authorities, or you will not be allowed to film again.
I'm sure folks are intelligent enough to filter this out. It was very heart warming to see the kids enjoying nature on their food hunt and recon for the infamous red army ants mentioned in the introduction. Everything leading up to this was very interesting to me. As only the third generation to escape the mud huts on the prairie, I can identify with these folks. The only real difference was we lived in modern homes and used machinery,motorized irrigation, and pesticides. But this only during the last 50 years. Much of our spare time was spent harvesting the orchards and gardens, which still involved heavy manual labor just like these folks. I'd say 60% of our time a day was spent on food recovery and preparation. Way more than anyone would tolerate now days in the USA anyway.
We also had our war with pests, and not all of them could be dealt with by pesticides. Bull snakes were encourage to move into our farmyards to keep the rattlesnakes away, and red/black prairie ants to keep the fire ants at bay, just to name a few instances.
But straight to the jist of why I recommend this movie is the remarkable achievment in preserving a history of what is hopefully a hard life dissappearing like it did for us, at the turn of the last century. The story line was beautifly executed and filmed, and you just had to fall in love with the cute grandfather who had the wise woodcraft(or witchcraft if you insist) to use bio-specie warfare against the terrible termites plaguing the village.
I can't understand the vitriol from some reviewers for the sciences used in this assesment. After all Anthropology is as important as the entomology shown in this film, at a time when human and natural cooperation was closer and more finely tuned than we have now. Woodcraft is a 6th sense that we have lost in this modern society. It is sad too, as it helped my beloved uncle survive Iwo Jima.
The music was straight from African traditions and used sparingly and with only original African cultural instrumentation. The filming was fantastic, and the macro-filmography of the insects spellbinding!
I highly recommend this film, although I hope it is remastered as a blu-ray; as this belongs in any thinking person's library. And any compassionate person's heart as well!! Truely a piece of art!
There is certainly no human "master" depicted here as the humans worship & pray to the ants and beg the ants for help & intervention against the termites.
The show is really only marginally about ants at all. It is how humans can keep their own hands clean by making other species fight to the death.
The humans play a game of "let's you and them fight" by causing ants to attack termites. NOVA films this grisly battle and you have to wonder if human chemicals wouldn't have provided a cleaner and more "humane" death.