About the Film

In 1993, Amy Bodman took a small crew to Zimbabwe to make a film about land as a living entity. After 15 years in the making, The Limits of What We Know documents the changing landscape of Zimbabwe and its people’s relationship to it.

Quietly told through the voices of Zimbabweans and arranged through chapters such as “The Great Zimbabwe Monument “,“The Composition of Drought”, “The Language of Trees”, “Rain”, “Clay”, the film is part travelogue, part environmental study and part meditation on life itself. Exploring a range of topics from the function of weeds and the hearts of giraffes, to the construction of dams and the rise and fall of kingdoms, the film ultimately reveals nature’s mysterious tenacity in the face of great change. While The Limits of What We Know appears at first to be a portrait of Zimbabwe, it culminates as a heart-felt picture of our changing world as it struggles to compensate for the ever-increasing dominance of the human race.

Shot during a time of relative peace, Zimbabwe is now in crisis and much of what was filmed no longer exists. The Limits of What We Know stands as a quiet testament to a country and its people.


In 1993 I went to Zimbabwe with a crew of four to make a film about land as a living entity. Zimbabwe had just surfaced from a four-year drought, the biggest in a hundred years. Over a seven-week period, the four of us traveled the country twice, interviewing people about the land and their relationship to it.

Overall we shot 18 hours of 16mm film and 40 hours of sound on a Walkman Pro. I worked off and on for a year editing the film in 16mm on a flatbed, and then took some years off. In 2003, I transferred the footage to tape and began to edit digitally, working part time on it for the next five years. The film is now an HD tape of 16mm, a document of a document.

In true documentary fashion, the film documents many things. In doing so, it moves from the specific to the universal. It documents a trip taken in 1993 by showing the people we met along the way and the things we saw. It documents concrete information - ranging from history of the country to traditional practices, like mbira playing and the making of clay pots. It also documents many things we can’t see, like the communication systems of trees, the connection between rain and healing, and the function of weeds. It provides an example of postcolonial Africa - Zimbabwe at a more peaceful and prosperous time - and leaves a living record of a number of Zimbabweans, many of whom have since passed away. On a technical note, it documents a medium -16mm film - that soon will no longer exist.

In examining these specifics, the film explores a worldwide phenomenon: the separation of humanity both spiritually and concretely from the ecosystems that support it, and this separation’s potentially devastating effects. And it tries to document the secret, silent force that is working to counteract the devastation, a force that works by placing limits.

The film itself is a limit – the audience is given parts of a picture and is asked to imagine the whole. In this vein, there are many couplings in the film - two dragons, two stories about salt, two examples of dam building, two accounts of the effect of cattle, two versions of the importance of grass. From time to time, locations are repeated as a different story is told. The audience is asked to weigh these couplings in order to broaden the picture at hand - to ask them to consider the limits of what they know.



Amy Bodman was born in Detroit, Michigan and moved to Toronto, Canada in 1980. Bodman’s first film Tree Tale is a 12-minute meditative experimental drama about a girl who spends a night in a tree. Screened at the Independent Film and Video Alliance in Quebec City, the Montreal Film Festival, the Videotron Youth Festival and Cinematheque Ontario at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Available through the Canadian Filmmakers’ Distribution Centre, Toronto.

Her film The Duration of Life and Other Tales from the Grimms is a 45-minute experimental drama that uses seven of Grimms’ more obscure fairytales to explore the relationship between land and people, youth and ageing and imagination and film. Screenings include the Vancouver International Film Festival, the International Fair of Young Filmmakers in Spain, the Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Centre in Buffalo, the International Storytellers’ Festival in Toronto, the Yorkton Short Film Festival in Saskatchewan, the Canadian Film Celebration in Calgary, the Athens Film Festival in Ohio, the Emerson Umbrella for the Arts, and the Gaslight Theatre in Massachusetts. Also screened at the University of Toronto (Innis Film Society), University of Guelph, Ryerson University and was part of legendary filmmaker Stan Brakhage’s curriculum at the University of Colorado. Available through the Canadian Filmmakers’ Distribution Centre, Toronto.

She directed, co-wrote and co-produced Dry Bones: Christianity in Transition, a two-part educational documentary exploring Christianity in modern times. Dry Bones was commissioned by Complex Productions and distributed by Films for the Humanities & Sciences and Films Media Group in Princeton, NJ.

The Limits of What We Know is Amy Bodman’s first feature-length documentary. Filmed in 1993 after a four-year drought, The Limits of What We Know is an evocative and informative portrait of Zimbabwe and its people at a specific time.


Sue Len Quon has been working in the film industry since graduating from film studies at Ryerson University in 1987. She started her career as an Assistant Editor on Canadian filmmaker Ron Mann’s documentary Comic Book Confidential. Sue Len continued to work with Ron as a Co-Producer, Assistant Editor and Post Production Supervisor on various documentaries, including Twist, Dream Tower, Grass and Go Further. In 2000, Sue Len decided to focus on editing and has worked as an Assistant Editor on feature films and television ever since. Some of her credits include Men With Brooms, Soul Food, The Sentinel and Jump. Recently Sue Len has moved into the area of visual effects and has been hired as a VFX editor on such films as Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse and Silent Hill. The Limits of What We Know is her first feature length documentary as picture editor.


Derek Rogers is an award-winning cinematographer who has shot features and television for over 20 years. Derek was educated at Ryerson University and soon became highly involved with productions at The Canadian Film Centre. Cube, directed by Vincenzo Natali through the CFC, won Derek the CSC Award in 1999 and this success has followed him throughout his career. In 2004, Derek won a Gemini Award for Best Cinematography for Ship Breakers. His feature film credits include Resident Evil, New Waterford Girl and Foolproof. For television, Rogers’ credits include Diamond Road, 5 episodes of Women on Top and 8 episodes of A Nero Wolfe Mystery. He has recently completed shooting Of Murder and Memory and is about to start shooting on a horror film set in a prison.


Alexa-Frances Shaw is a Producer, Director, and Editor working in documentary film and television. She produced and edited the feature film Brakhage, a documentary screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Berlin Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival. She is the co-producer and editor of the made for television documentaries Michael Snow Up Close, Mosestv and From Me to We. In 2006, Alexa produced Poetry in Motion 25, a sequel to Ron Mann’s 1982 feature documentary Poetry In Motion. She has worked with Ron Mann and Sphinx Productions on several other projects including developing the documentaries Examined Life and Know Your Mushrooms. With the completion of The Limits of What We Know, Alexa is currently in development and pre-production on the documentaries Enthusiasm: The Music of James Tenney and Taking the Ice.


Director and Producer - Amy Bodman

Director of Photography - Derek Rogers CSC

Editor - Sue Len Quon

Sound Recordist - Susan Oxtoby

Production Manager & Assistant Camera - Richard Mackenzie

Co-Producer - Alexa-Frances Shaw

Sound Editor - Grant Edmonds
The Dark Studio Sound Company


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