For the Fulani nomads of West Africa cattle are their life-blood. To make way for rice-farming, they must move their herds seasonally, but this annual migration has been disrupted by years of drought. Traditional routes may or may not yield green pastures and enough water for the people and their cattle to survive the dry season. Enter modern satellite imagery, and with it, the ability to see the entire region and its resources from space.
THE COW JUMPED OVER THE MOON documents the interaction between the tradition-based knowledge of West African nomads and the advanced technological knowledge of the United States, represented by agencies such as NASA and NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency). Connected by an extraordinary program that aims to preserve the "old" by using the "new," these radically different sets of information are expressed in contrasting images - from thousands of cows swimming the Niger River to enormous satellite dishes scanning the night skies.
The satellite program is an initial step in the "Mission to Planet Earth" - a comprehensive program of environmental monitoring by NASA satellites. At Lockheed-Martin and NASA's Goddard Space Center, scientists explain the technology and theory behind this ambitious program. Dr. Wolfgang Sachs, a German environmentalist, appears as a critical voice on this data-generated approach, seeing it as an extension of U. S. efforts to control the earth in the name of saving the environment.
From the traditions of the cow-herder in the desert, to the expertise of the NASA space-scientist, THE COW JUMPED OVER THE MOON poses important questions about the nature of knowledge and technology, autonomy against conformity, localization versus globalization. It asks whether it is possible to create a fusion between learning from experience and employing outside expertise as a means of saving our environment.
"This film is a wonderful instance of how technology can assist in efforts to save the environment, climate, and diversity of the world in which we live... Highly recommend!"—Educational Media Reviews Online
African Literature Association Conference Film Festival, 2001
Winner of the Public Prize, Festival de Pastoralisme et Grands Espaces, 2000
Winner of the Prize of Innovation, Festival of Maritime and Exploration Films, 1999
First Prize Winner, Festival du Film Scientific, 2000
International Ethnographic Film Festival, 2000
Margaret Mead Film Festival, 1999
African Studies Association Conference Film Festival, 1999 & 2000
"Navigating between the Africa of the Fulani, the civilization of the cow and the laboratories of NASA, this film skillfully plays on the visual contrasts between tradition and modernity. The idea of presenting the great ecological debates of the future through the story of African cowherders and the states of Western research on climate is very seductive."—Telerama (Paris)