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Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai

by Lisa Merton and Alan Dater

How the simple act of women planting trees changed a nation...

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We are deeply saddened by Wangari Maathai's death and feel blessed to have known her for nearly a decade. Wangari’s passing leaves it up to each of us to carry a part of the load that she so gracefully and fearlessly carried for us during her life.   Lisa Merton & Alan Dater, Filmmakers, Sept. 30, 2011

TAKING ROOT: The Vision of Wangari Maathai tells the inspiring story of the Green Belt Movement of Kenya and its founder Wangari Maathai, the first environmentalist and first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

The U.S.-educated Professor Maathai discovered her life's work by reconnecting with the rural women with whom she had grown up. Their lives had become intolerable: they were walking longer distances for firewood, clean water was scarce, the soil was disappearing, and their children were suffering from malnutrition.

Maathai thought to herself, 'Well, why not plant trees?' Maathai soon discovered that tree planting had a ripple effect of empowering change.

Countering the devastating cultural effects of colonialism, Maathai began teaching communities about self-knowledge as a path to change and community action. The women worked successively against deforestation, poverty, ignorance, embedded economic interests, and violent political oppression. They became a national political force that helped to bring down Kenya's 24-year dictatorship.

Through TV footage and chilling first person accounts, TAKING ROOT documents the dramatic confrontations of the 1980s and '90s, as the women of the Green Belt Movement confront human rights abuses and environmental degradation. Cinema verite footage of the tree nurseries and the women and children who tend them brings to life the confidence and joy of people working to improve their own lives on their terms.

TAKING ROOT: The Vision of Wangari Maathai captures a world-view in which nothing is perceived as impossible and presents an awe-inspiring, profile of Maathai's unstoppable and courageous thirty-year journey to protect the environment, defend human rights, and promote democracy.

quote"Highly recommended!"
Randy Pittman
Video Librarian
full review

quote"...The film, focusing on Maathai’s homeland of Kenya, elucidates the importance of the oral tradition in African history and the peoples’ relationships to the environment, and it reviews the impact of colonialism, deforestation, and decades of dictatorial rule on the country."
Patricia Ann Owens, Illinois Eastern Community Colleges, Mt. Carmel, IL
School Library Journal
full review

quote"Taking Root"... portrays a vision of education that is not about changing peoples heads, but ultimately changing the conditions under which people live. ... It is worth a hundred hours of classroom talk.
Dr. Thomas Heaney, Associate Professor, Adult & Continuing Education, National-Louis University

full review

quoteTAKING ROOT is one of the most important documentaries of our times. ... May the work of Dr. Wangari Maathai ... move us all to live as service warriors.
Alli Chagi-Starr, Green for All and Co-Founder, Art in Action Youth Leadership Program

full review

quoteDr. Maathai's courage and vision are rivaled closely by her capacity to teach. Her story -- as told in this film -- is worth a thousand textbooks.
Roger Wilkins, Clarence J. Robinson Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

More Reviews


  • PBS national broadcast, Independent Lens, April 2009
  • Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Film and Digital Media 2009, Council on Foundations
  • Audience Award Winner, Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, April 2008, Toronto, Canada
  • Amnesty International Durban Human Rights Award Durban International Film Festival, July-August 2008, Durban, South Africa
  • Full Frame Women in Leadership Award, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, April 2008, Durham, North Carolina
  • Best Documentary, International Images Film Festival for Women, Zimbabwe, February 2009
  • Best Documentary Asheville Film Festival Asheville, North Carolina, November 2008
  • The Margaret & Harold Blank Award for Storytelling, Vermont International Film Festival, Burlington, Vermont, October 2008
  • Prix du Publix and Prix EcoCamera 2008, RIDM Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montr?al
  • Thessolaniki Documentary Film Festival, Thessolaniki, Greece, March 2009
  • Women of Color Arts & Film Festival, Atlanta, Georgia, March 2009
  • Human Rights Film Festival, Botswana, March 2009
  • Philadelphia Film Festival, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 2009
  • Sarasota Film Festival, Sarasota, Florida, March 2009
  • Cinema Planeta, Mexio, March 2009
  • Community Cinema screenings in over 50 US cities, February - April, 2009
  • Movies That Matter, Amnesty International Film Festival, The Hague, The Netherlands, April 2009
  • Audience Award, Green Film Festival in Seoul, South Korea, May 2009

  • Audience Award & Best Documentary, Mendocino Film Festival, Mendocino, California, May 2009

  • Little Rock Film Festival, Little Rock, Arkansas, May 2009
  • Santa Cruz Film Festival, Santa Cruz, California, May 2009
  • Council on Foundations, Atlanta, Georgia, May 2009
  • Emision Cero, Madrid, Spain, June 2009
  • Festival de Cine Ecologico de Canarias, Canary Islands, Spain, May 2009
  • FESPACO, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, February 2009
  • Big Muddy Film Festival, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, February 2009
  • Audience Award Winner Projecting Change Film Festival, May 2008, Vancouver, BC
  • Green Cinema Award Maui Film Festival, June 2008, Maui, Hawaii
  • Mill Valley Film Festival, San Rafael, California October 2008
  • National Geographic Society, Washington DC October 2008
  • Chicago International Film Festival, October 2008
  • CinemAmbiente International Environmental Film Festival,Torino, Italy, October 2008
  • Hot Springs International Documentary Film Festival Hot Springs, Arkansas, October 2008
  • Bergen International Film Festival Bergen, Norway, October 2008
  • Balinale International Film Festival, Bali October 2008
  • Hamptons Film Festival, East Hampton, New York, October 2008
  • Chicago International Film Festival Chicago, Illinois, October 2008
  • Denver "Starz" Film Festival Denver, Colorado, November 2008
  • San Francisco Film Society November 2008
  • Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival Colorado Springs, Colorado, November 2008
  • Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montr?al, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, November 2008
  • Vermont International Film Festival Burlington, Vermont, October 2008
  • Nashville Women in Film & Television Award for Best Feature Length Film Directed or Co-Directed by a Woman 39th Nashville Film

Visit the official website for Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai

Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai

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Special Features:

The Special Edition DVD includes:

  • 80-min. feature film with closed captions,
  • 53-min. broadcast version with closed captions,
  • 90-min. of extras including interviews with Wangari Maathai and members of the Green Belt Movement, plus additional footage of the Civic & Environmental Education workshops and political actions.

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