The Documentary Film
Liberia ‘77 is an powerful documentary currently airing in Canada on Knowledge Network, TVO, and ACCESS.
About the film
For Jeff Topham and his brother Andrew, 70s Liberia was a childhood paradise of endless beaches, thick jungle – even a pet chimp. Their father worked for Exchem, a Canadian company that made explosives for the Liberian mining industry. He also took thousands of photographs – extensively recording not only an ex-pat family’s extraordinary African experience, but also unknowingly documenting a country and a people on the edge of destruction.
30 years later, and now both photographers themselves, Jeff and Andrew return to Liberia to revisit and re-shoot their childhood ‘Eden’. But what starts as a personal journey, exploring the connection between memory and photography, quickly evolves into something they didn’t expect.
In searching for the characters in their father’s photos; their former housekeeper James, their pet chimpanzee Evelyn, and the employees of their father’s explosives plant, the brothers discover more than just memories. Three decades later, the people – and the chimps – are still there, seemingly waiting for their return.
It forces them to ask themselves some tough questions about western impact on Africa, and about our responsibility as industrialists, journalists, and humans.
It also became clear that their father’s photos are far more than just family snapshots of an idyllic ex-pat childhood. For a people whose happy memories – and photographs – have been destroyed by war, the images also offer a rare proof of a once peaceful and prosperous country, and hope for a brighter future. They saw how photography could play an important role in helping heal a deeply wounded nation and its people.
Liberia ’77 is an African adventure for us all – an exploration of the universal importance of photography in defining our lives – and offering an unforgettable portrait of how despite time, distance, culture and war, photography connects us all.
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