Full Frame Women in Leadership Award, 2008
Planting trees for fuel, shade, and food is not something that anyone would imagine as the first step toward winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet with that simple act Wangari Maathai, a woman born in rural Kenya, started down the path that reclaimed her country’s land from 100 years of deforestation, provided new sources of food and income to rural communities, gave previously impoverished and powerless women a vital political role in their country, and ultimately helped to bring down Kenya’s twenty-four-year dictatorship.
Taking Root weaves a compelling and dramatic narrative of one woman’s personal journey in the context of the turbulent political and environmental history of her country. Raised in the rural highlands of Kenya, educated in the United States during the 1960s civil rights era, and the first female to receive a PhD in East Africa, Maathai discovered the heart of her life’s work by reconnecting with the rural women with whom she had grown up. A seemingly innocuous idea, Maathai soon discovered that tree planting had a ripple effect of empowering change. As the trees and the Green Belt Movement grew, a spirit of hope and confidence also grew in ordinary citizens, especially in women, only to be met with violent opposition from the government. Maathai and her colleagues soon found themselves victims of President Moi’s political oppression. At great risk Maathai lead numerous confrontations in defense of the environment and social justice each of which brought her country closer to democracy.
Through intimate conversations with Maathai, whose warm, powerful, and luminous presence imbues much of the film, Taking Root captures a world-view in which nothing is perceived as impossible, presenting an awe-inspiring profile of one woman’s thirty-year journey of courage to protect the environment, ensure equality between men and women, defend human rights, and promote democracy–all sprouting from the achievable act of planting trees.