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On the tracks of the Rallye to Dakar 

 

Paris, fall 2006: The world’s most famous rallye is presented to journalists and motor-sports pros at an exclusive event. Images like the ones shown there will later be watched by millions of people around the world: High-tech motorcycles, cars and trucks race across the desert and through towns and villages in five African countries, 7915 kilometers in just a few days, before a winner is chosen in Dakar.

 
These projections resemble a distorted afterimage in the film '7915 KM'
, which begins after the Rallye has already ended. The camera stands in the Moroccan desert, ‘Kilometer 1009,’ according to the caption. Gently curving tire tracks extend into the distance. The camera’s gaze concentrates on that distance for a while, unmoving, and everything is quiet except for the wind buffeting the microphone.
The route becomes a trail that the film follows slowly, discovering on the way what millions of fans, drunk with speed, are unable to see on their TV screens: the variety to be found in Africa’s present, which is recorded in portraits and encounters and juxtaposed with the racing conquerors. Over a period of four months in 2007 Nikolaus Geyrhalter and his crew shot '7915 KM,' which has more to say about stopping than moving forward, lingering, eyes and ears open and unhurried. 


The camera encounters men, women and children
who have stories about daily life, their work, happiness, worries and hopes, meeting them eye to eye, and they set the film’s pace: a girl in a small Moroccan village who presents her goat named Rally with a smile; Saharawi soldiers who have been guarding a stretch of desert for 

 
 
decades, its borders still undefined after the Spanish colonizers withdrew; a Mauritanian caterpillar driver who has to feed his family though he was old enough to retire years ago; the owner of a movie theater in Mali who attempts to compete with the booming DVD and Internet market for blockbuster films with naked whites from the 70s; a young Senegalese woman who chattily gives a tour of houses being built by villagers working in Europe. 
 
The apparent distance in '7915 KM' is negated by the numerous connections between Europe and Africa in these stories, in addition to the overbearing presence of the media in the most remote villages and the longing projections involving Europe: ‘Europeans don’t have to do anything. They’re all rich and just enjoy life.’ 

'7915 KM' makes the connections in a globalized world
tangible and also questions the permeability of the borders - both the borders forced upon Africa and the ones Europe is now working hard to defend. Standing next to a pile of boats that washed up in the harbor of Dakar, Senegal’s capital, a police officer unemotionally describes the individual stories behind them: ‘Some refugees make it to Europe, and many don’t.’

At its end the film observes
how certain images have come to characterize the predominant European perception of Africa, somewhere between a land of adventure and a threat: An airplane loaded with the most modern technology available, part of Europe’s anti-immigration program, takes off from Dakar to search for boatloads of refugees with high-resolution telephoto lenses.