TV review: “The Francincense Trail”

Thanks to friends with connections and (or is that connections to friends with?) digital TV recorders I spent the last four hours watching the 2009 BBC 2 documentary (I’d call it a travelogue, really) “The Francincense Trail“, which has been waiting for my attention for a while now. It was a good way to spent the evening, and has intensified my desire to travel the Middle East (lots). I want to go see francincense trees and walk the countryside and look at all the old ruins and visit all the vibrant markets and cities built from clay and see Sanaa and … . Yeah

The story is overly dramatic for me, in part (I didn’t need the whole show to cap on the francincense being used in Bethlehem at Christmas for it to be a good documentary), but not annyoing-me-into-stopping so, and the pictures are gorgeous.

I can’t say how accurate everything presented in the documentary is (I don’t know enough about the non-Byzantine history of the region and I’d actually never really wondered where francincense came from, or how it was transported in ancient times – not that that is truly at the center of the show), and it’s a lot more a charming and sometimes silly travelogue than a fact-heavy documentary. I think it is worth watching it for the gorgeous landscapes and the people that are encountered, even if some of the situtions seem contrieved. You learn more about camel jumping and camel herding than about francincense, but I didn’t mind, and watched all four hours back-to-back. (And shall now google more info about francincense). I am not sure yet if the presenter was charmingly uninformed or annoyingly vague and culturally insensitive, though. Her charisma was not bad, but some of her interactions with and reactions to the people she encountered had me go “urm…” and “culturally insensitive much?!?! HELLO?!?!?”.

Anyway: superb and well-shot landscapes, survivable narration, not a lot of cultural sensitivity or hard facts about francincense.


Has anyone else seen it? What did you think?

Also: Read Edward Said’s Orientalism.






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