Born Free: Film Looks at Post-Apartheid South Africa, April 18 – May 31
Born Free*: Film Looks at Post-Apartheid South Africa. The end of apartheid was perhaps the most exciting turn of events at the end of the 20th century. However after years of violent repression and lingering disparities, building a culture of equity and inclusiveness has proven to be a challenge. The documentary and narrative films in this series examine the memory of the struggle against apartheid, apartheid’s legacy in the continuing violence, trauma and racial and economic inequality, the vibrancy of music, the role of women in transforming the country, and the possibility of romance amidst it all.
*Born Free is a term for people who have grown up since the end of apartheid.
In 1960 after she denounced the apartheid system, singer Miriam Makeba’s music was banned and she was exiled from South Africa – the land of her birth – for nearly 30 years. (And when she married activist Stokely Carmichael – Kwame Turé in 1968, she was banished from the United States.) She became an inspiring ambassador for South African culture, African liberation and Black pride. This first ever documentary biography of Makeba features interviews with her, those she inspired and such contemporaries as Hugh Masekela and most notably some of the electrifying performances from her 50 year career.
The young actor Sox is offered the role as a tsotsi (gangsta) in a TV series that could launch his career. Although his family roots were in the tough township of Soweto, his middle class upbringing is light years away from that experience. In true Method acting style, he immerses himself in the township and approaches Zama, a real tsotsi to teach him the ways of that life. Conflict and confusion ensue for everybody. Punctuated by booming kwaito music, this thriller is the 2nd feature film by Oliver Schmitz director of the acclaimed Mapantsula (screened at the Pacific Film Archive on March 18) and it obliquely addresses the growing class divide amongst Black South Africans.
Thandeka has flashbacks. She is a journalist who was imprisoned and tortured by the apartheid regime and is haunted by the memory of witnessing the police assassination of a young activist. She is angry that the perpetrators have not been brought to justice. She asks, “Aren’t ‘we’ in power now?” and “Has anything really changed?” When the mother of the murdered activist asks Thandeka’s help in finding out where her daughter’s remains were secretly buried, it offers a chance to confront and begin to repair the deep lingering traumas facing thousands of South Africans. The powerful Zulu Love Letter is the first dramatic film dealing with these issues.
Moratiwa owns a bookstore and is a frustrated author trying to finish “The Great African Novel” when she goes to a club and meets Nat, a sought after model. Nat is not much of a reader which seems like a deal breaker for the book loving Moratiwa but they still get together as people do in romantic comedies. Director Omotoso (who also directed the gritty Vaya, shown at the Pacific Film Archive, May 6) took his inspiration from the American classic movie Love Jones and he populates the stylishly fun movie with hip young Black, post-apartheid, middle class artists and professionals who can now legally live in dynamic Johannesburg while they were prohibited from even being there 30 years ago without a pass. This movie was a box office hit in South Africa.
Documentary filmmaker Khalo Matabane’s frames much of his film in the form of a letter to Nelson Mandela. Matabane notes that “The truth about Mandela, lies in his contradictions.” Mandela’s South African comrades and associates, as well as leading world figures, comment on their interactions with him and what he represented. The film and several commentators place South Africa’s transformation in an international context and look at the current state of the country, the continuing inequality and question whether true reconciliation and justice have been achieved.
In August 2012 in an event reminiscent of the apartheid era, South African police opened fire on striking miners killing 34, wounding 78 and arresting hundreds. It became known as the Marikana Massacre. Widows and other women in the community formed a grassroots organization demanding justice and reparations. The film closely follows two women involved, Thumeka who continues her activism in the organization and Primrose who leaves and gets elected to Parliament with the Economic Freedom Fighters Party.
This documentary takes a sweeping look at the big political events of recent years that possibly signify the end of an era in South Africa. Patronage and government corruption (most notably from the recently resigned President Jacob Zuma), coupled with the failure to address the festering sore of inequality, has led to declining popularity of the African National Congress at the polls. The film charts the various ways people have collectively responded to the ANC’s failure to deliver on its promises including growing trade union and student protests. The big debate in South Africa is whether or not the party can recover its reputation as the most respected liberation movement in the world and generate genuine change in the country?