Duma (2005)

Rated PG. Our ratings: V-2 ; L-1 ; S/N-1 . Running time: 1 hour 40 min.

When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul; and he sent for him. David said to Saul, ‘Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.’ Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.’ But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it.
1 Samuel 17:31-35

Duma

Carol Ballard, director of such fine family-friendly films as The Black Stallion, Never Cry Wolf, and Fly Away Home adds to his luster in this beautifully photographed story. It is a variation of the boy and his dog tale, with a cheetah replacing the dog, and the vast wilds of South Africa serving as backdrop. An embellishment of the book, How It Was with Dooms, written by the mother and son who are portrayed in the film, Carol Cawthra Hopcraft and Xan Hopcraft, it is a mystery as to how or why the film studio decided to send the film to DVD after a brief attempt to market it to theaters, Ballard’s film being infinitely better than most of the summer films palmed off on us..

Xan (Alexander Michaletos) lives a blissful life on a farm with his father Peter (Campbell Scott) and mother Kristin (Hope Davis). When he and his father find a baby cheetah in the road, they take it home, boy and cat growing close as the little animal grows into sleek adulthood. Xan is amazed at Duma’s ability to run as fast as their car. (The name he assigns his pet means “cheetah.”) His bliss ends with the death of his father and the necessity of the family moving into a city apartment. Xan tries to keep his pet, but it soon becomes evident even to him that the city is no place for Duma. Without telling his mother, Xan sets out on a motorcycle to transport Dumas to a wildlife refuge on the far side of the country. There is much danger ahead, the journey requiring their crossing the trackless the Kalahari Desert.

Boy and cheetah have quite a series of adventures along the way, first of which is running out of gas and meeting up with the wandering Rip (Eamonn Walker). Neither Xan nor we are certain at first of the native African’s trustworthiness—nor, apparently is the man himself. Rip claims to be returning to his village after having been working in a mine, where he discovered that he was just one more exploited worker. He says he will escort the boy to his destination, but is he going in the right direction? As their relationship develops, both boy and man change, each, thanks to their shared hardships and unlikely friendship, growing in maturity. Xan’s common sense seems lacking at first, his setting out without telling his mother, but, like young David of Scriptural fame, he discovers the courage that enables him to face and overcome all obstacles. The sequence in which Xan rigs a sail, transforming his motorcycle into a dune buggy that glides across the land, propelled by the strong wind, is alone worth the price of renting/buying this film. Young and old will enjoy this tale of courage and friendship.