BAKA: In Search of the Future

A new theatrical documentary

40 years ago, award winning filmmaker Phil Agland went to the Congo Basin to create a film about the Baka forest people, one of the oldest human civilizations on Earth.  No other filmmaker has ever been granted such exclusive access into an indigenous community.


Two award-winning television specials spanning five generations of one Baka family were produced in 1989 and 2012.  But today these Baka are in grave danger - and they have a new story to tell.  And this time, the Baka will hold the cameras to share a story that every human being understands.  In an increasingly turbulent world, what does it mean - and what will you risk - to protect your family, preserve your culture, and save your identity?  Modern themes ringing true from the Congo Basin to the world's largest cities.



Today this Baka family is on the brink of collapse.  Their world has deteriorated from a pristine life in balance with the Congo rainforest to today’s reality of a family forcibly relocated to a logging road and falling prey to alcoholism, domestic violence, and infant mortality.   Now these Baka are facing an even more gruesome danger - they are the victims of systemic rape and horrific murders for a terrifying body parts trade.  


The leaders of the family - who we met and fell in love with as children - have made a fateful decision. In search of a new home, they will risk everything on a perilous journey deep into the rainforest. Their goal: to find the fabled clearing in the woods called Dzanga Sangha, where Baka legend says their people and the forest elephants still live together in harmony. 





ALI - A family leader.

AMBI - Ali's niece and rising family leader.

CAMERA - Ali's sister and Ambi's mother (named at birth for the film camera.)




The film begins with sweeping imagery introducing the rainforest world of the Baka.   We find the family preparing for an uncertain future and the difficult journey to find a new home.  These Baka have only heard of Dzanga Sangha in fables, but it is indeed a real and spectacular oasis.  The journey should last 4 to 8 weeks and will take these Baka deeper into the rainforest than they've ever explored.  But there is no way to predict how long this odyssey will last or how the family will manage countless dangers including predators ranging from prowling leopards to startled elephants to legions of ants marauding by the millions. There’s also the constant threat of poachers and paramilitary groups who patrol these woods.  But the Baka culture is founded on a remarkable understanding of this primal world.  Their unique genius is knowing how to survive and thrive within the Congo’s gifts and perils.  


But there’s also a new consideration.  Because these Baka were forcibly removed from the forest two generations ago, can they still summon the hardwired instincts of their ancestors to navigate the Congo’s constant dangers and reach their goal?   And when they reach Dzanga Sangha how will they react to the new world they've been searching for?   And how will the Baka cousins who live in Dzanga Sangha embrace their lost relatives from the East?  These essential and dramatic questions anchor the film's dramatic journey. 





Supporting the Baka's new story is an unprecedented forty-year film archive revealing this family's life in the Congo.  To be clear - this is not an archive film.   But this unprecedented library spanning 40 years and five generations of Baka triumph and tragedy is uniquely compelling and deeply emotional.  It is a sweeping yet intimate portrait of a single family - and the terrible transformations the Baka have endured.  It is just one powerful element of this project that illuminates deep character histories and intensifies our connection to the Baka's intelligence, resilience, love, and vulnerability.    



This first documentary story began in the 1980’s.  But the global importance of this project came to a head in 2010 when we returned for the second film.  


In a remarkable 2010 scene, we screened the first documentary film for the family.  It had a profound impact as the Baka saw their loved ones again, living their former life in the pristine rainforest.  It was joyous and heart-breaking, and it planted the seeds for the momentous decision this family has made today…



Ali's father telling stories...

Watching the first film changed Ali.  Today he's a leader of the family and seeing these images inspired Ali to seek the counsel of his deceased father, Likano.  Carrying his child on his shoulders (a young girl who would tragically die a year later) Ali confides in his father the need to change their family’s trajectory and rescue it from impending oblivion…


By 2010, the transformation of the forest had devastated the Baka.  Loggers uprooted towering trees creating a ‘Ghost Forest’: vegetation with no animal life.   In this clip from the second film, Ali and his brother Yeye gaze upon a logging concession as it drains the life blood from the Congo…



The rainforest devastation in the second film is profoundly different from the lush forest celebrated in the first film.  In 1984, Ali was just a young boy, learning the Baka’s ways at his father’s knee…



In the first film we share the birth of Ali’s younger sister, Camera (named after the filmmaker’s camera).  In a disarmingly relatable scene, Ali meets his sister for the first time - and delivers his thoughts on her arrival....   



In the second film, Camera is now a young woman with a child of her own, a scene-stealing girl named Ambi.  She’s lovely and precocious – and the first Baka to attend school…



Ambi is a bright light in the second film.  But her family is mired in darkness.  Separated from their homeland and no longer able to hunt, the family is forced to work for Bantu farmers who pay them in poisoned alcohol – with devastating consequences…



The family's village is now surrounded by the graves of their children.  With no healthy forest or sanitation or clean water, this Baka community is dying.  Ali has already buried two of his children and his brother Yeye has buried three.  And now Ali’s youngest daughter is mortally ill…



And Ali’s elder brother has been brutally murdered…



But after decades of despair a miracle arrives.  In 2020 Camera gives birth to a new child.  Ali is now a respected family elder and Ambi is a rising leader.  They sit together in a leaf-hut, well past midnight, caressing the newborn.  Ali and Ambi hold the infant and make the solemn vow driving this new film: to free their family from the horrors of the logging road, to restore their culture by finding Dzanga Sangha, and to finally reclaim the Baka’s rightful identity as The People of the Forest.   




“Agland shoots the daily and dramatic events with the clinical observation of Frederick Wiseman, only lit with the artfulness of Vermeer. This is one of the few television series all year that could be shown on a movie screen”

(Los Angeles Times)

“Filmmaker Phil Agland shows what television is capable of at its very best... it’s like a beautifully drawn fairy tale dealing with the intrusion of modern realities. To describe his work as a documentary is to deny the involving richness of what he has created”

(Hollywood Reporter)