This film is held by the BFI (ID: 21205).


Fictional story filmed in the Sudan. The film tells the story of Boru, adopted into the 'Habbania' tribe after his mother is killed by a lion, who grows up with the Sheikh's son, Nikitu.

A local woman leaves her baby while collecting flowers and is attacked and killed by a lion. A local tribe kill the lion, and the wife of the Sheikh discovers the abandoned baby, Boru, as a python hovers above him. The snake is killed and Boru is taken in by the Sheikh and his wife as a brother for their son, Nikitu. The two grow up as best friends, along with Loweno, a young girl they both befriend. Drought forces the tribe to travel across the land looking for water and game. They encounter fire and after becoming separated, Nikitu goes back to find his father. Boru in turn follows but he finds the Sheikh already dead and Nikitu barely alive. He carries Nikitu across the water - the rest of the tribe have already crossed - but Nikitu is already dead. The tribe mourn and 'Boru, child of the forest, is proclaimed Sheikh'. Boru helps the tribe build a new village and finds love with Loweno.



Having previously filmed their expedition by car from the Cape to Cairo (released in 1926), Major Court Treatt, his wife Stella and her younger brother Errol Hinds travelled to the Sudan in 1928, with a view to filming two pictures for British Instructional Films. The Times explained that ‘the first picture will deal with wild animal and native life and customs, and the second will be a “story” picture based on an original scenario by Mrs Court Treatt’ (The Times, 21 March 1928, 14).

The production of Stampede is discussed in Stella Court Treatt’s account of the trip – Sudan Sands: Filming the Baggara Arabs. She suggested that a ‘story’ was ‘essential as a peg upon which to hang an “animal” picture’ (Court Treatt, 1930, 3). Yet, a number of reviews questioned the value of the staged narrative. The Times stated that Stampede ‘is to be enjoyed and remembered not as a love story or a morality play, but as a film in which animals and not men, however brilliantly and unconsciously they acted, were the real heroes’ (The Times, 25 February 1930, 12). The critical magazine Close Up, while praising the film, was also less enamoured with the ‘modicum of story’ (Close Up, December 1929, 461), while New York Times felt the film ‘lacked spontaneity and truth’ as the ‘different events strike one too forcibly as having been pre-arranged’ (NYT, 28 April 1930). Despite its scripted narrative and romantic sub plot, publicity for the film still promoted it as an ‘authentic’ document of African life, with advertisements highlighting a ‘real Sheikh in “Stampede”’, ‘A cast of 8,000’, featuring a ‘whole Tribe of the Habbania’ (Press Book, BFI). Advertisements for a novelisation of the film written by Stella Court Treatt, also entitled Stampede, further claimed that the story contained ‘no incident which is not a true picture’ (The Times, 24 June 1930, 19). Major Court Treatt defended the film’s historical veracity in a letter to Close Up magazine in January 1930, explaining that ‘it is a real story of the real things that have happened and are still happening in the lives of the tribe and the incidents are lived, rather than acted by the people to whom these things have actually happened’ (Close Up, January 1930, 84).

The casting of the local leading characters however indicates both the commercial sensibilities of the producers and the intended audience for the film. Stella Court Treatt explained that she sought to find suitable male leads ‘to thrill the hearts of a good many feminine “movie fans”’. She described one of the chosen leads as a ‘new Valentino’, clearly highlighting a desire both to target female audiences, but also to position the film as an exotic adventure in the spirit of earlier romantic ‘Arabian’ stories like Son of the Sheikh (Sandon, 2000, 116). Bioscope, in its review, noted that ‘the natives themselves are splendid specimens of virile manhood’, while Stella Court Treatt described Fatma, who played Loweno, as a ‘poem of grace and very beautiful’ (Court Treatt, 1930, 116). During a trip to New York in January 1931, Major Court Treatt stated that ‘our star was a beautiful Arab girl, daughter of a sheikh. Although she had no knowledge of the ways of civilised actresses, she developed an imperious temperament when she learned that she was the centre of attraction. She came late, complained she did not feel like acting, and tried to tell us how the picture should be made’. In response to these demands, Court Treatt explained that Fatma was sent to the King of the Tribe and after ‘twenty severe lashes’, she ‘became a very fine actress’ (Jefferson City Post Tribune, 5 January 1931, 1).

Major Court Treatt introduced Stampede at its first screening at the Hippodrome in London in January 1930 (Bioscope, 22 January 1930, 29). It played alongside the Chaplin film, The Rink, three times a day at the Polytechnic in Regent Street from 24 February until 12 April. The film was also intended for overseas exhibition. The rights to the entire 1929 programme of Pro Patria films, which included Stampede, were bought by Mr S. Hayden of Kinemas Limited, which controlled over 50 cinemas in South Africa, and by Mr Madan, who controlled the Madan theatres in India (The Times, 23 January 1929, 14, 6 March 1929, 14). The film also played in America, and was reviewed in both Variety and the New York Times.

Stampede was billed in Bioscope as an ‘antidote to the exhibitor who has lost heart with the silent picture’, but the producers nonetheless made a sound version of the picture – entitled Africa in Flames – which followed Stampede extremely closely. There is little evidence however of Africa in Flames’ distribution, although a sound film, entitled Stark Nature, which contained material from the expedition in the Sudan, was released in the summer of 1930. 



The production and critical reception of Stampede seemingly indicate shifts in audience expectations for films of African wildlife. First, Stella Court Treatt argued that in order to produce a commercially attractive film – which was often important to secure funding for the expedition – it was ‘essential’ to script a narrative from the expedition footage. This blatant fictionalisation of African life led New York Times, amongst others, to criticise the lack of ‘spontaneity and truth’ within Stampede, yet paradoxically the review also complained about a lack of excitement – the filmmakers ‘appear to ignore the fact that in these days the public has been educated up to a desire to see the full action in some of the scenes, where it is possible and not just a flash of a wild animal’. Certainly the success, in particular, of the American adventurers Osa and Martin Johnson encouraged filmmakers to sensationalise the wildlife footage, yet while the Court Treatts sought to emphasise the authenticity of their film in their publicity, Stampederepresented a more blatant merging of the documentary and fiction genres.

Emma Sandon notes this merging of film styles and genres. She argues that Stampede follows classical narrative cinema – for example through parallel editing, presenting action motivated by the protagonists and encouraging identification through point-of-view shots and shot/reverse shot structures – yet she also notes the formal links with early cinema and travelogues. In particular she notes the use of trick photography, and of ethnographic and performance sequences which are removed from the narrative (Sandon, 2002, 198-201).

The film’s narrative is framed by a Darwinian message of evolution and survival – described by The Times as ‘the constant struggle for existence of the primitive races’ (The Times, 13 November 1929, 12). The opening title states that ‘in their battles with fire, famine and beasts of prey, you may perhaps see a symbol of Man’s eternal struggle for existence’, while the concluding title explains that ‘through struggle and defeat man’s faith triumphs; out of the ashes of his loss he builds anew, and life goes on’. Central to this evolutionary message is the representation of the African people. Through editing, the film implies a link between the ‘primitive’ Africans and the local wildlife. For example, an early scene inter-cuts shots of an African baby with a shot of a monkey, while locals imitate monkeys by the waterhole. The Africans are positioned within the wildlife, yet the British viewers are distanced from this. The film does not include any British characters, while an opening title directly addresses the audience – ‘Here we show you the adventures of a wandering tribe in the African forests’ – creating a clear distinction between the animals and Africans on the one hand and the European viewers on the other.

Tom Rice (July 2008)


Works Cited

Bioscope, 22 January 1930, 29.

Brownlow, Kevin, The War, the West and the Wilderness (New York: Random House, 1979), 507-515.

Close Up, December 1929, 461-463.

Close Up, January 1930, 84.

Court Treatt, Stella, Sudan Sand: Filming the Baggara Arabs (London: Harrap, 1930).

‘Says Temperamental Actresses Sometimes Need Good Whipping’, Jefferson City Post Tribune, 5 January 1931, 1.

Low, Rachael, The History of British Film, 1929-1939: Films of Comment and Persuasion of the 1930s (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1979).

New York Times, 28 April 1930.

Sandon, Emma, ‘Projecting Africa: Two British Travel Films of the 1920s’, Cultural Encounters, Representing Otherness, edited by Elizabeth Hallam and Brian V. Street (London: Routledge, 2000), 108-148.

Sandon, Emma, ‘Representing ‘African Life’: From Ethnographic Exhibitions to Nionga and Stampede’, Young and Innocent? The Cinema in Britain 1896-1930 edited by Andrew Higson (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2002).

Stampede Pressbook’ held at the BFI.

‘The Film World’, The Times, 21 March 1928, 14.

‘The Film World: British Pictures for South Africa’, The Times, 23 January 1929, 14.

‘The Film World: An African Picture’, The Times, 13 November 1929, 12.

‘The Film World’, The Times, 8 January 1930, 10.

‘Stampede’, The Times, 25 February 1930, 12.

The Times, 24 June 1930, 19.



  • AFRICA IN FLAMES (Alternative)

Technical Data

Running Time:
45 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
7200 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
HINDS, Errol
Assistant Editor
cast member
El-Aziz, Abd
cast member
El-Nebi, Abd
cast member
Fadl, Sheikh Achmed
cast member
Habbania tribe
cast member
Idam, Fatmas
HINDS, Errol
Production Company
British Instructional Films
Script Collaborator
Script Collaborator
HINDS, Errol





Production Organisations