Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen.
Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen.

The never ending magic of movies

SOME experiences you never forget. For instance 1959 in the highlands of Kenya, as blue sky and blazing red earth fill our Land-Rover's window. The scents of canvas tent mixes with wild game, sweat, cattle and dried blood from the Masai walking beside the dusty road.

We stop nowhere, miles from 'civilisation', beside the only building visible - a rough mud walled shed serving as a meeting place for natives.

My stepfather parks the Land-Rover and I help him roll out the sparkling white screen, the Bell and Howell projector, leads, speaker and generator.

All afternoon hundreds of natives arrive, some walking three days to see this white man magic. My stepfather is a missionary for film. He developed a love of film as a wartime reconnaissance pilot, moving on to work on 20th Century Fox blockbusters like African Queen, King Solomon's Mines and Hatari. He so loved film that he felt compelled to share this miracle with the Africans - his gift from our world.

In the evening dust hundreds gather at the shed. Eternally patient they crowd inside, squatting on the ground, waiting. As sunset fades the generator blurts into life, and the brilliant light of the projector blazes. across the crouched heads. The crowd gasps, then goes silent - fear and tension fills the air.

The BBC Newsreel starts, solemn black and white images of postwar London, opening of Parliament, a state funeral, a ship launched by the Queen. The Africans watch spellbound seeing moving pictures for the first time. Then they panic. Shrieking warriors run from the hut, mothers clutch their children and moan in terror.

Finally one brave soul approaches the screen, and nervously touches the surface. He peers behind and re-emerges unscathed. The signal is given: It's safe.

Fear turns into amazement and quickly turns into joy. Shrieks of laughter rock the hall as the delirium of the medium takes hold. Grown men fall on the ground clutching their sides in pain with laughing so hard.

It is all so magical, so marvellous, so spellbinding that from this moment they join the rest of the planet as movie addicts.

Yesterday, as I combed through thousands of brilliant clips on YouTube, I reprised this joy. Today everyone with a phone is a moviemaker. What a time to be alive.

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