Review: ‘Between the Rains,’ starring Kole Achucka and Patrick Achucka

June 23, 2023

by Carla Hay

Patrick Achucka and Kole Achucka in “Between the Rains” (Photo by Andrew H. Brown)

“Between the Rains”

Directed by Andrew H. Brown and Moses Thuranira

Swahili and Turkana with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in northern Kenya, the documentary film “Between the Rains” features an all-African group of people in rural villages.

Culture Clash: The Turkana-Ngaremara community and the Samburu community have conflicts with each other over thefts and dwindling resources during a drought, while the younger of two brothers is constantly challenged to prove his masculinity.

Culture Audience: “Between the Rains” will appeal primarily to viewers who are interested in watching documentaries about how people are affected by climate change.

Kole Achucka in “Between the Rains” (Photo by Andrew H. Brown)

The documentary “Between the Rains” tells a compelling parallel story of rivalries between communities and rivalries between two brothers during a tension-filled drought period in Kenya. One of the highlights of the movie is its impressive cinematography. “Between the Rains” had its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Festival, where it won the prizes for Best Documentary Feature and Best Cinematography in a Documentary Feature.

Directed by Andrew H. Brown and Moses Thuranira, “Between the Rains” was filmed over four years in northern Kenya. (The specific years are not mentioned in the documentary, but the mobile phones shown in the movie indicate that filming started in the late 2010s.) Brown is also the documentary’s cinematographer. Thuranira is a native of Kenya.

The cinéma vérité-styled “Between the Rains” is told from the perspective of a teenager named Kole Achucka, who was 13 years old when the movie began filming. Kole (pronounced “koh-lay”) and his older brother Patrick Achucka (who was about 20 years old when the movie began filming) live in the pastoral community of Turkana-Ngaremara, also known as Turkana for short. Kole and Patrick have a brotherly relationship that goes through ups and downs during the course of the film.

Kole is the intermittent narrator of “Between the Rains,” which begins with this voiceover introduction from Kole: “Long before we became locked out on this cursed land, the Turkana lived in harmony with nature. We followed the rains, never settling long enough to burden the land. The colonizers and the other tribes of Kenya have tried to erase us, but our enemies’ fear of us has always crippled their efforts. Nature is the only power that can destroy us. It is a vindictive beast and the only thing worthy of our fear.”

During the course of “Between the Rains” (which is a brutally honest look at the effects of climate change), nature is not kind to the people in the documentary, due to a drought that has been plaguing the area. There are dwindling resources that have left many people in the area dead from diseases or starvation, or moving away in search of a better life. The mother and the grandmother of Kole and Patrick are dead. These two women were beloved members of the family. Kole (the more sensitive brother) still openly grieves for them. The father of Kole and Patrick is away, looking for work in the Kenyan countryside.

The brothers’ other family members who are in the documentary are their friendly aunt Veronica (who is the sister of their late mother) and Patrick’s adorable son, whose name is not mentioned in the movie. Patrick’s son is about 3 to 5 years old in the documentary footage. The mother of this child is not seen or mentioned in the documentary. Veronica says that the mother of Patrick and Kole was filled with goodness and taught them respect for nature.

Throughout the documentary, Patrick tries to teach Kole how to be a better hunter and warrior, but Patrick often grows frustrated because he doesn’t think Kole has what it takes to live up to Patrick’s ultra-macho standards. Patrick is considered an “alpha male” of the Turkana community. Patrick is both feared and respected. A recurring theme in “Between the Rains” is that Kole has to “prove” his manhood by going through some harsh rituals that will be very uncomfortable for many “Between the Rains” viewers to watch.

Kole says in the documentary: “I’m known as the boy that was born amongst the goats. I’m told that shepherding is the only path I’ll ever know.” He adds, “I wish my path led to a different life, but my brother says it’s not good to have childish dreams.”

Depending on your perspective, Patrick is a pessimist or a realist. There are multiple times in the movie where Patrick describes the land they live on as “cursed.” Patrick feels stifled by but also loyal to staying on this land. He tells Kole that they shouldn’t expect rain anytime soon. Patrick also repeatedly lectures Kole and tells him in various ways to “grow up,” such as when he tells Kole: “Put the innocence of childhood behind you.”

Because resources are scarce during this drought, nearby communities have gotten into fierce rivalries with each other that result in thefts of livestock and crops. A woman named Josephine is described as the “peacekeeper” of Turkana. She is often seen talking on her phone as she fields information about who has stolen what and where the stolen goods are. Josephine tries to act as a negotiator when she can.

Near the beginning of “Between the Rains,” several goats have been stolen from the Turkana community. Josephine is seen saying to an unidentified person on the phone: “The thieves will try to sell them [the goats] quickly in the market. If we don’t recover the stolen livestock, there will be violence. Our informants say that they’ve already sold some [goats], so it’s best if we intervene and outsmart the livestock thieves.

Patrick and a group of other Turkana men swiftly react when they find out that the thieves are members of the nearby Samburu community. Patrick and his cronies show up unannounced, retrieve the stolen goats, and proceed to rough up the men they suspect of stealing the goats. Some of the men quickly confess and beg for mercy. The suspected thieves are forced to get into a truck. The documentary doesn’t show or tell what happened to these suspected thieves, who are never seen in the movie again.

Kole says that he places a high value on spirituality and nature. He explains, “Our god is called Akuj—the spirit of nature. Our god is the blessing of rain and water. When nature is happy, we live in peace, without fear. But between the rains, the river dries, and neighbors become enemies. I’m not afraid of our enemies. I only fear nature.”

Sensitive viewers should be warned that there are multiple scenes in the documentary that show animals being killed for various reasons. One of the reasons is for doing a ritual where a goat is killed so that a local shaman can “read” the goat’s intestines to determine what nature’s prophecy is. In scientific terms, it’s like doing an amateur autopsy to see the qualities of what the goat ingested. Another animal-killing ritual, which is described as “the most important” ritual, is the asapan: when a warrior becomes a respected elder. This asapan ritual involves drinking animal blood.

“Beyond the Rains” also shows that although there is some modern technology in the Turkana community, the gender roles are still steeped in ancient traditions. The men are the physical protectors and hunters, while the women are in charge of food preparation and child rearing. There are some exceptions, of course. Patrick appears to be a single parent, and he is loving and nurturing in raising his son. Kole is also a doting uncle to this child. But given Patrick’s staunch machismo, it’s hard not to speculate if Patrick would be as attentive to this child if the child were a girl.

There is a lot of cruelty in the rituals that the Turkana men go through to “prove” their manhood. In one hazing ritual, Kole is forced to kill his favorite pet sheep. In another ritual, Kole is held down while some men in the group remove one of his teeth. They order him not to cry, or else they’ll make things worse. Kole’s attackers wanted to remove more teeth, but Kole puts a stop to it. He is then jeered at and insulted for being a “wimp.”

In this community, male crying is considered an act of weakness that could make a man or a boy a social outcast in this community. When Kole cries, he does so silently and as far away from other people as possible. Kole also visits his grandmother’s grave on his own. These are things that observant viewers of the documentary will notice without any intrusive talking head “experts” weighing in with their comments.

It’s pretty obvious that Patrick is not the type of person who talks about his feelings of grief, so he and Kole do not have a close brotherly bond where they can open up to each other about their deepest emotions. Luckily, Kole has his aunt Veronica, who seems to be emotionally available to him if Kole ever needs to talk about his feelings. But in this community, Kole has to be careful about how he is perceived when it comes to his masculinity, or the men in the community could make his life miserable.

There’s also a hint that drug abuse could be a problem. A scene in the movie shows Patrick ordering Kole to snort an unidentified white powder when they’re alone together in a hut. This drug use is shown once in the documentary and never discussed again. It’s hard to know how often Patrick and Kole ingest whatever substance they snorted because a lot of the footage that was filmed over four years was no doubt edited out of the documentary.

“Between the Rains” has striking nature shots that show the dichotomy of the beauty of this natural land but also the ravaged devastation of a drought. It’s also a poignant coming-of-age-film about a boy who has to forge his identity as a man under some very tough conditions. Many people around the world live in a bubble of modern technology conveniences and think climate change is far removed from their lives. “Beyond the Rains” is a jarring look at the environmental damage for the people who live on the front lines of climate change and can’t afford to escape from where they live. They are part of our ecosystem warning that rural people in underdeveloped countries aren’t the only ones who are going to suffer from climate disasters.

Copyright 2017-2024 Culture Mix