A trip down Lake Tanganyika aboard the MV Liemba is an unforgettable experience. The massive turquoise lake, dotted only with the small white sails of dhows takes your breath away. The nearly century-old Liemba lists slightly starboard as she travels down the lake, reeking from sacks of sardine-like fish piled high on the decks. Every available space on deck is sprawled with travelers, luggage, chickens, everything- imaginable and unimaginable. Each stop along the way is a spectacle as merchants loudly hawk produce, fish, meats and anything else they think someone might buy.
There is a distinct rhythm to riding the Liemba. The chaotic floating markets that erupt night and day each time the ship coasts to a stop at a village are mellowed by the idle time traveling between them. People from all walks of life come together and share a meal or a story or a laugh. They are anxiously awaiting arrival at a decent hospital, or returning for family in war stricken areas or hoping for luck in the markets of southern Africa. It doesn’t take long to realize the vital role this ship plays in the lives of the people along the shores of Lake Tanganyika.
Using the ship as a lens, our documentary explores the history of this region over the past century. The ship becomes a platform, literally and figuratively, from which to discus the legacy of colonialism as it informs this region of Africa. The film interweaves the fantastic history of the ship with the present day wonder of what her ongoing weekly trips offer communities otherwise still totally disconnected from modernization. Interspersed without are the touching personal stories of the passengers and crew we meet as we travel aboard the Liemba.
The story of the Liemba and the people she services is animated to its fullest by the films astounding soundtrack. All of the music was recorded on location during production in Tanzania. We brought a “studio in a laptop’ and a suitcase full of microphones along with the rest of our gear and were able to record hours of mind blowing original, indigenous music.
The lively soundtrack helps to set an upbeat tone for the documentary that celebrates the ship and the people who travel upon her. We strived to make a documentary that celebrates this region of Africa too often framed in the context of disease, poverty and war in western media. We tried to transport the audience to central, east Africa for 50 minutes to experience the journey.
During our own trips up and down the lake, we became close to the crew and many of the regular travelers. We are very grateful to the entire crew of the Liemba and all the kind folks we met who helped us along the way. We are very thankful to all of our supporters and proud to be able to bring you Liemba. We hope you enjoy the ride.
John Billingsley & Andrew Subin