Martin and Osa Johnson by Tent

Africa 1929

When the Johnsons returned from their second trip to Africa in 1927, movies with sound had made their advent. To insure its success, their movie “Simba,” which was shot as a silent film, was released in 1928 with a musical score and some narrative dialog. Knowing that sound would be required to keep abreast of the public’s expectations, Martin and Osa returned to Nairobi in November 1929 intent on making the first movie with sound produced entirely in Africa. Their plan was to return to the Congo area and make a movie about the gorillas and the Mbuti.

Before venturing to the Congo, the Johnsons returned to the Serengeti and northern Kenya and made sound recordings at some of the locations that had entertained and excited moviegoers in their film “Simba.” After a few months, and with several tons of equipment and supplies, they continued to Uganda where they filmed Murchison Falls with its large populations of hippos and crocodiles.

Reaching the Congo, Martin and Osa selected two villages to film the Mbuti. The dense forest with its humidity made filming difficult by fogging the lenses and causing the equipment to corrode. Despite the adversities, the Johnsons were determined to record Mbuti life and they succeeded in documenting Mbuti music, dances and songs, thereby capturing a permanent record of a culture that has all but disappeared.

Finally, they traveled to the mountains of the Virunga range; Mikeno, Karisindi, and Visoki, where they filmed and photographed gorillas. The close encounters they experienced provided them with the greatest thrills of their career to date.

The Johnsons returned to the states in July 1931 and their movie, “Congorilla,” debuted a year later in July of 1932. Shortly thereafter, Martin and Osa went on a lecture tour with silent footage that was edited into the feature “Wonders of the Congo.”

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