The Material

 A few of the dozens of rolls of film, the original typed journal, photos, and other materials from the 1937 Sykes African safari

A few of the dozens of rolls of film, the original typed journal, photos, and other materials from the 1937 Sykes African safari

 

At the heart of this documentary project are the very rare films and written materials produced during this African safari, just before the onset of World War II. Shot by the family of filmmaker Hunter Sykes, the films contain more than four hours of historical footage—reportedly the first color film shot in Africa—taken during an eight-week safari on and around the Serengeti region of Tanzania. These unique and amazing films are accompanied by detailed journal entries, kept by several members of the family throughout the ten-week journey.

Beginning in June 1937 with the family's departure from New York City aboard the French liner Normandie, the footage provides an amazing glimpse into the transportation in the 1930s, the human cultures, geographies, and wildlife of East Africa, African colonialism, geopolitics between the World Wars, the culture of "being on safari," and the ethics and science of sport hunting. And that's barely scratching the surface of what these films can teach us. This unique footage gives visual insights into the cultural, socioeconomic, and physical aspects of the interwar world of the wealthy and the peoples they encounter. 

In addition to the films, the complete day-by-day journal entries of the trip—written by Hunter's grandfather, grand-uncle, and great-grandmother—are remarkable primary source materials that provide another level of depth to the visuals and inject this project with even greater potential.

Filled with the personal observations of the participants, the journals open the door to the cultural and racial bias of the family, as well as their attitudes towards wildlife, the reactions of the local peoples to—what was then—a rare visit by wealthy whites, a glimpse into life in a British colony just before World War II, and a fascinating look at transportation, technology, and the start of globalization following the development of rapid transport.