First, Third World collide in ‘Tumaini’

Tumaini is a locally made film about an international problem — the profound imbalance that exists between the consumer-driven West and the poverty-stricken Third World.

Tumaini is a locally made film about an international problem — the profound imbalance that exists between the consumer-driven West and the poverty-stricken Third World.

The 90-minute movie that’s making its world premiere on Friday evening at the Memorial Centre was directed by Red Deer College Motion Picture Arts graduate student Matthew Orobko. The screenplay was adapted from an original script by Central Albertan Steve Neufeld, who received input from playwrights through the Scripts at Work festival.

Neufeld, who teaches school in Sylvan Lake, was inspired to write a play about a fictional high school instructor named Terry Bowman, who begins to mentally unravel after an eye-opening trip to Africa.

While Neufeld’s own Third World visits never precipitated any kind of real-life breakdowns, they did change his world view. The playwright remembers marvelling over western wonders upon his return — such as how water came out of his kitchen faucet.

Neufeld’s fictional alter-ego, Bowman, has trouble reconciling the self-indulgent North American lifestyle with the grave need he witnessed overseas. His frustration at being unable to do enough to help solve Third World problems leads to mental lapses.

Bowman starts to hallucinate. And the figment of his guilt-plagued imagination is a little African girl named Tumaini, who makes a habit of popping up in his classroom at the most inconvenient times.

While the teacher is the only one who sees Tumaini, it doesn’t take long before his students notice something unusual going on.

“It’s not too complicated a story, it’s just a great script,” said Orobko, who was drawn to Neufeld’s personal, and sometimes humorous, tale because of its humanist message about the need for responsibility to trump apathy.

“I thought a lot of people would get something out of it,” said Orobko, who also felt Neufeld’s plot would be relatively easy to convert into a screenplay. “I saw a lot of opportunity for how we could translate it to film.”

Among the changes Orobko made is casting a whole classroom of pupils, instead of just a couple of student characters the stage script called for.

Perhaps his greatest challenge was figuring out how to make Tumaini believable as a hallucination.

Orobko hoped to achieve the latter by including Bowman in virtually every shot of the girl — even if it was just his elbow, or part of his shoulder.

“Except for once, you never see Tumaini without also having me in the frame as well,” said Jeff Woodward, who portrays Bowman in the film and is also the movie’s producer.

The role of Tumaini is played by 11-year-old Mustaha Adair, who is from Red Deer. Woodward said the goal was to cast as many Red Deer College students and graduates as possible.

He considers the role of Bowman, with his mood swings, a “juicy” one for any actor. “He’s a really interesting character, but he’s always fighting with himself, so it was challenging to make him likable.”

While Woodward believes viewers will get frustrated with the self-flagellating teacher, he thinks they will also empathize with his struggle to make some kind of meaningful contribution. “A lot of people will see themselves. The story will speak to them.”

Tumaini was filmed in Red Deer with a budget of about $60,000, largely from local investors.

Tickets for the world premiere gala are $36.30 from the Black Knight Ticket Centre. The red carpet reception is at 7 p.m., film screening is at 8 p.m. ($100 VIP passes are also available).