As a young man, American Louis Sarno heard a song on the radio that gripped his imagination. He followed the mysterious sounds all the way to the Central African rainforest and found their source with the Bayaka Pygmies, a tribe of hunters and gatherers. He never left.
Today, twenty-five years later, Louis Sarno has recorded more than 1,000 hours of unique Bayaka music. He is a fully accepted member of the Bayaka society and has a 13-year-old son, Samedi. Once, when Samedi was a baby, he became seriously ill and Louis feared for his life. He held his son in his arms through a frightful night and made him a promise: “If you get through this, one day I’ll show you the world I come from.”
Now the time has come to fulfill his promise, and Louis travels with Samedi from the African rainforest to another jungle, one of concrete, glass, and asphalt: New York City. Together, they meet Louis’ family and old friends, including his closest friend from college, Jim Jarmusch.
Carried by the contrasts between rainforest and urban America, with a fascinating soundtrack and peaceful, loving imagery, Louis‘ and Samedi‘s stories are interwoven to form a touching portrait of an extraordinary man and his son. SONGFROMTHEFOREST is a modern epic set between rainforest and skyscrapers.
Crew & Partners
Born in Breisach am Rhein in 1966, Michael Obert is an award-winning German author and journalist. Over the past 20 years he has travelled to the most remote parts of the world, forgotten corners of paradise as well as disaster areas and war zones. He mainly covers Africa and the Middle East. His seven-month journey from the source of the Niger to its mouth brought fame with his best-selling Regenzauber, known in English as On the River of Gods. Literary critics liken him to Bruce Chatwin, Jon Krakauer, and Ryszard Kapuscinski. When Michael is not travelling, he lives in Berlin. SONGFROMTHEFOREST is his first film.
Alex started out as a stage actor in the 1980s in Paris, London, and New York. Following his childhood dream of Hollywood, he continued his career as a screen actor in Los Angeles and won roles in many television series, commercials, and films until his desire to return to Europe was too strong to resist. Shortly after his arrival in Berlin he founded Tondowski Films with his wife, Ira. Their goal is to support visionary directors to help them realise their ideas. “The story of Louis and his son is one that you dream of having the opportunity to make.“
Ira Tondowski was born in 1975 in East Berlin. She studied screenwriting at The Baden Württemberg’s renowned Filmakademie. She is a recipient of the Boje Buck Literature Prize for Nordwind, her greatly acclaimed screenwriting debut, and continues to work as a screenwriter and script adviser for both film and television. Driven by her desire to see stories on the big screen, she founded Tondowski Films in partnership with her husband, Alex. ”Working with Michael and Alex on SONGFROMTHEFOREST has been life-changing, deeply moving, fun, and crazy. In one word: wonderful.”
Heino Deckert is producer and managing director of Ma.ja.de. filmproduktion based in Leipzig and Berlin, Germany, as well as running Deckert Distribution.
In 1995 Mr. Deckert founded d.net, an informal union of six European colleagues joining forces to exchange ideas and initiatives. Heino Deckert meanwhile produced more than 80 award-winning documentaries with filmmakers like Thomas Heise and Viktor Kossakowsky.
In 2005 Heino Deckert founded Ma.ja.de. fiction. “My Joy” and “In the Fog” by Sergei Loznitsa were chosen for the Cannes competition in 2010 and 2012.
Jutta Krug is currently working as commissioning editor for WDR, one of the largest German public broadcaster based in Cologne. She is in charge of feature length documentaries within the culture department. Her professional career was marked by ARTE in Strasbourg, where she was a member of the founding team in 1992. In 2000 she joined the WDR as a commissioning editor.
Many of the documentaries Jutta Krug commissioned received critical acclaims and are regularly screened at the most renowned international festivals. She has been member of different festival juries and regularly organises screenings and workshops.
Siri Klug has been a camerawoman for numerous German and international productions. She trained with Michael Ballhaus (Gangs of New York), Hans Fromm (Wolfsburg), and took on second camera under Reinhold Vorschneider (Orly). “Working closely with such experienced filmmakers has helped me to quietly identify my own vision. My aim is not merely to seek out the perfect detail of a shot but also to bring the audience closer to those qualities we’re all searching for: sensitivity and passion.”
Wiebke Grundler, a film editor since 2002, has worked on a wide range of productions for arte, 3sat, ZDF Theaterkanal, Kleines Fernsehspiel, and Al Jazeera as well as for The Goethe Institute in Abu Dhabi, the art gallery Haus der Kunst in Munich, and the Berlin theatre, the Volksbühne. She completed her professional studies in 2011 at the Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen (HFF), the Film and Television University in Potsdam-Babelsberg. SONGFROMTHEFOREST is her fourth full-length film.
Timo Selengia was born in 1971 in Hamburg. Since 1998 he has been a sound engineer for cinema and TV productions, mostly documentary and reportage but also short films and feature films based on real-life events.
Louis & Samedi
Born in 1954 in New Jersey, Louis Sarno is a world-renowned musicologist. His remarkable life’s work includes more than 1,000 hours of recordings of the Bayaka people’s unique songs, some of which, without his documentation, would have been lost. As an undergraduate, Sarno studied English and literature, sharing his passion for experimental music with his roommate Jim Jarmusch, whose films Dead Man (1995) and Ghost Dog (1999) were inspired by Sarno´s unusual path through life.
It all started while he was listening to the radio one winter night in the nineteen eighties and discovered a type of music he had never heard before. “These strange harmonies sent shivers down my spine. They seemed to hypnotise me. It was pure magic.” The songs haunted him. He did some research and learned of their origin with the Bayaka. Soon after that he was packing his recording equipment alongwith his last 500 dollars and boarding a one-way flight to Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.That was in 1985. A quarter of a century later he still lives amongst the Pygmies. “They are my family. The rainforest is my home.”
Samedi Mathurin Bokombe
Samedi is 13 years old. His name means Saturday. He’s called that because he was born on a Saturday. Until he travelled to the USA with his father, Samedi had never been out of the rainforest. Like most Bayaka children, he doesn’t go to school and can neither read nor write. Louis has not taught his son any English, nor does Samedi speak French, the official language of the Central African Republic.
The Bayaka People
The Bayaka (pronounced “bye-jacka”), also referred to as the Aka or Babenzele, are one of the oldest peoples on earth. They number around 100,000 people of small stature and live in the Central African rainforest as hunter-gatherers, using nets made of liana bark to hunt in large groups. The women carry the proceeds of the hunt, along with wild berries and fruits, in woven baskets on their backs. Their striking body decorations include facial tattoos, incisor teeth filed to a sharp point, and body carvings.
The very essence of Bayaka culture is their ancient polyphonic singing. The Bayaka use the sounds made by water, tree-trunks, birds, and wind to navigate the maze of the rainforest. The forest has sharpened their auditory abilities: not only can they decipher sounds from great distances, they also understand their significance. Bayaka music comes directly from this auditory understanding of the environment: the forest is the orchestra, the Bayaka take the solo parts. In 2003 the music of the Bayaka people was granted UNESCO World Heritage status.
Over the past two decades, 75 percent of the Congo Basin rainforest has been cleared. The Bayaka, agile forest runners, are ill-equipped to deal with treefellers, gold prospectors, and speculative traders encroaching on their living space. The Bayaka people are fighting for survival.
COMING TO A THEATERNEARYOU IN GERMANYSTARTING ON SEPTEMBER, 11th 2014
SONGFROMTHEFOREST by Michael Obert was awarded the VPROIDFA Award for Feature Length Documentary 2013!
The IDFA Jury Report:
“… one film stepped out. With a lush sound design, tender images, and intimate access, this film explores the legacy of an aging man immersed deep in a rainforest community, where he has recorded thousands of hours of music. By tracing his journey back to the city with his young son, this film poetically asks: as the world changes around us, what do we leave behind? The jury gives the prize for the best Feature length documentary to Song from the Forest by Michael Obert.”
Screenings at Edge Documentary Festival in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand
Saturday 31 May 9:15 pm Q Theater
Monday 2 June 1:30PM Q Theater
Wed 11 June 1 pm Roxy Cinema
Sat 14 June 8:45 pm Roxy Cinema further info www.documentaryedge.org.nz
Screenings at Beldocs Film Festival in Belgrade, Serbia
Tuesday, May 14, 2014 – 19:00am further info www.beldocs.rs
Screenings at DOXA Film Festival in Vancouver, Canada
Saturday, May 10, 2014 – 11:00am further info www.doxafestival.ca
Screenings at Docaviv Festival in Tel Aviv, Israel
Friday May 9th 19:30 Cinemateque 4
Tuesday May 13th 16:45 Cinemateque 1 further info www.docaviv.co.il
Screenings at the Green Film Festival in Seoul, Korea
Saturday May 10th 19:00 / Seoul Museum of History
Thursday May 15th 16:00 / Seoul Museum of History further info www.gffis.org
Screenings at Planet + Doc Festival in Warsaw and Wroclaw, Poland KINOTEKA (Warsaw)
14.05 / 21:30
15.05 / 21:30
16.05 / 17:00
17.05 / 21:30 DOLNOŚLĄSKIECENTRUMFILMOWE (Wrocław)
10.05 / 21:00
11.05 / 17:00
16.05 / 17:00 further info www.planetdocff.pl
Screenings at BuDoKu festival in Budapest, Hungary
Tuesday May 6th, 2014/ 20h00 / Toldi
Sunday May 11th, 2014/ 18h45/ Művész further info www.budoku.hu
Screenings at DOK fest. München in Munich, Germany DOK Panorama Section
Friday May 9th, 2014/ 19h30/ City 2
Sunday May 11th, 2014/ 20h00/ Filmmuseum further info www.dokfest-muenchen.de
Screenings at It's All True International Documentary Film Festival – in São Paulo & Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
São Paulo/ Friday, April 4th, 2014/ 17h00/ Livraria Cultura
Rio de Janeiro/ Thursday, April 10th, 2014/ 19h30/ Espaço Itaú de Cinema Botafogo
São Paulo/ Sunday, April 12th, 2014/ 14h30/ Livraria Cultura further info www.itsalltrue.com
Screenings at River Run Internation Film Festival – in Winston – Salem, North Carolina, USA
Saturday, April 5th, 2014/ 10h30/ a/perture
Sunday, April 6th, 2014/ 19h30/ a/perture
Tuesday, April 8th, 2014/ 14h30/ a/perture further info www.riverrunfilm.com
Screenings at Reykjavík Shorts & Docs Festival 2014 – in Reykjavík, Iceland
Friday, April 4th, 2014/ 18h00/ Bió Paradís
Monday, April 7th, 2014/ 22h00/ Bió Paradís further info www.shortsdocsfest.com
Screenings at Cleveland Int. Film Festival 2014, Cleveland,OH, USA
Friday, March 28, 2014 at 1:30 PM
Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 6:20 PM further info www.clevelandfilm.org
Screenings at Thessaloniki Documentary Festival 2014, Thessaloniki, Greece
Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 8PM – John Cassavetes Cinema
Friday, March 21, 2014 at 8PM – Pavlos Zannas Cinema further info www.tdf.filmfestival.gr
Screenings at SXSW 2014, Austin,TX, USA
Saturday, March 8 / 2:00PM / AMC Theater at VCC
Monday, March 10 / 9:30PM / SXSatellite: Marchesa
Wednesday, March 12 / 2:00PM / SXSatellite: Alamo Village further info www.sxsw.com
Screenings at ZagrebDox 2014, Zagreb, Croatia
Monday, Feb 24th at 12pm-Theater 4
Thursday, Feb 27th at 9pm-Theater 3
Saturday, Mar 1st at 4pm-Theater 2 further info www.zagrebdox.net
EFM Industry screening, Berlin, Germany (EFM Badge holders only)
Friday, February 7th 2014, 4pm – Cinemaxx 19
More Screenings at IDFA 2013, Amsterdam, Netherlands
29.11.2013/ 10h00/ Melkweg – Rabozaal
30.11.2013/ 10h00/ DLM: Mary Dresselhuys Zaal
30.11.2013/ 10h00/ DLM: Wim Sonneveld Zaal
30.11.2013/ 10h00/ Melkweg – Rabozaal
30.11.2013/ 12h30/ Tuschinski 3
01.12.2013/ 10h00/ DLM: Mary Dresselhuys Zaal
01.12.2013/ 10:00/ DLM: Wim Sonneveld Zaal for tickets www.idfa.nl
The Bayaka pygmies and their unique culture are threatened by the destruction of their rainforest home, poaching, and epidemics. Even before filming began, team members Michael Obert (director) Alex Tondowski & Ira Tondowski(producers) and Percy Vogel (associate producer) were looking for ways to support the Bayaka of Central Africa in their struggle for survival. These efforts developed into the BAYAKASUPPORTPROJECT, which makes it possible for you, viewers of SONGFROMTHEFOREST, to help the Bayaka through your donations. We will seek out projects that are appropriate and meaningful for the community and will help to develop them further.
Please join the effort to support the Bayaka. Donate today! Thank you.
Michael Obert, Alex Tondowski and Percy Vogel – THEBAYAKASUPPORTPROJECT
1. Support Louis Sarno and his community through donations to „Global Voice“ (tax-deductable for US-taxpayers) or the Germany-based Förderverein für bedrohte Völker e.V.
Louis Sarno is still living among his Bayaka friends and family in the Central African Republic. He spends much of his time and energy supporting the Bayaka in various ways, most significantly by distributing medication and food to those in need. But the current civic war in the CAR means that tourism – the most important source of income for Louis in recent years – has more or less stopped. Through „Global Voice“ you can help Louis and the Bayaka of Yandoumbé to survive even in these difficult times.
You live in the US or other non-EU-countries?
You live in the European Union? Make your donation to:
Foerdervereins fuer bedrohte Voelker e.V.
Postbank Hamburg IBAN: DE89 2001 0020 0007 4002 01 BIC: PBNKDEFF
Kontoinhaber: Förderverein für bedrohte Völker e.V.
Reason for transfer: “Indigenous peoples CAR”
Your donation will be transferred to Louis Sarno in the CAR! Thank you!
2. Support the Bayaka Fund of WWF Germany (tax-deductable for EU taxpayers)
WWF Germany began the Bayaka Fund in 2012, in part inspired and accompanied by the filmmakers’ work in Dzanga-Sanga. The goal of the fund is to improve the community’s access to medicine, food, and education as well as to ensure their access to the forest on which their culture and way of life depend. In addition, the fund aims to support the Bayaka’s autonomy and cultural self-determination, in part through recognition of their rights as indigenous people. In addition the fund aims to support the Bayaka’s autonomy and cultural self-determination, in part through recognition of their rights as indigenous people. The Fund’s projects are an integral part of the ongoing rainforest protection efforts that the WWF has led in Dzanga-Zanga for 20 years—including during the current civil war in the Central African Republic.
Please donate to: WWF Deutschland
Bank für Sozialwirtschaft IBAN: DE06 5502 0500 0222 2222 22 BIC: BFSWDE33MNZ
Please indicate that the donation is intended for the “Bayaka Fund”
For donations from within the European Union, WWF Germany will provide a donation receipt upon request. Write to
The WWF guarantees that 100% of your donations will support the Bayaka Fund. None will be used for administrative costs. TondowskiFilms&Friends also supports this BAYAKASUPPORTPROJECT donation recommendation—with half of the profits from SONGFROMTHEFOREST
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