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Africa’s Last Romantic

The Films, Books and Expeditions of John L. Brom

Olga Brom Spencer and Glenn Reynolds

Africa’s Last Romantic: The Films, Books and Expeditions of John L. Brom captures the drama and excitement of John L. Brom’s film expeditions from 1949 to 1962 through sub-Saharan Africa. Brom was the only explorer to follow the footsteps of Henry Morton Stanley and in a documentary interviewed the two last survivors of Stanley’s expeditions from 1874 to 1890. In 1955 he also interviewed the famous nineteenth-century East African slave trader Tippu Tip’s grandson, who defended his grandfather’s trade. Brom’s expedition was the basis for his bestseller 20,000 Miles in the African Jungle, which was translated into eleven languages. Brom managed to interview and film the rulers and tribes he encountered before they were decimated in the civil wars of the Congo after independence, and his historic films are now preserved in the Human Studies Film Archives of the Smithsonian Institution. Over 500 articles were published on Brom’s work on both sides of the Atlantic during his lifetime. Africa’s Last Romantic is a useful addition to college courses in Third World cinema, cinema studies, and African history.
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Chapter 4: Civilization is Just a Thin Layer on Indomitable Nature


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The French colonial administration was instrumental in helping Brom locate sites of cinematographic interest as well as facilitating contacts with varied tribal leaders. Yet the officials’ cooperation was not altruistic, but rather motivated by having control of the expedition’s whereabouts.

Brom was especially interested to show the variety of regional and ethnic richness of Cameroun, and as his next location selected a remote village of Pandong north of N’Kongsamba known for its rugged beauty and unique huts with tall conical roofs. In order to get to the village, two days distant from Foumban, the filmmakers had to spend the night in N’Kongsamba that in 1949 was a small town with two churches and one hotel taking pride in two guest rooms and a restaurant. The rooms were permanently booked as there were many businessmen visiting this rapidly growing center for the banana export trade.

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