DIFF review – These 2 doccies are too cool for school

2014-07-24 14:02

Two new documentaries exciting young audiences at the Durban International Film Festival – Future Sound of Mzansi and Shield and Spear – have plenty in common.

They both take to the road to interrogate the South African cultural revolution. They both explore a new generation of musicians, featuring exquisite casts of characters. And they’re both slightly problematic to me.

Shield and Spear, by Petter Ringbom, focuses on freedom of expression, with Brett Murray’s controversial painting The Spear at its centre. It is decently shot and knows how to tell a story - but doesn’t seem sure of what that story is, and simplifies the political landscape it surveys.

Future Sound of Mzansi by Spoek Mathambo and Lebogang Rasethaba knows what story it’s telling and textures its subject, but falls short in its ability to structure its story in a compelling way.

“South Africa has a rhythm. It rolls, but it’s broken,” says a character in Future Sound.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2A0ZzKybU1U

People who know Spoek’s story as a new school music producer and rapper will know that his film tracks the pioneers of our ever-evolving electronic music, which is, by 2014, better known internationally than at home. They’re the people who influence him as an artist. But the film doesn’t tell us this or offer his narrative voice.

The result is heated arguments after the screening about who was included and who left out. People expected it to be definitive. The artist intended it to be personal.

But Future Sound is a useful and often revealing look at the bedroom producers of the music that’s rocking our dance floors. Its odd technical problems could have been absorbed in a rough, road movie style, but they jar in the slicker talking heads set-ups.

By structuring their narrative city-by-city, the filmmakers do a disservice to their story. Despite fascinating revelations of Gqom music in Durban, the mental institutionalisation of former wunderkind Mujava, the drug habits of pioneering composer Felix Laband and the late-career rise of the awesome Nozinja’s Shangaan electro, the piece ends in Cape Town, with lengthy interviews with white electronic producers.

Where we should be getting emotional pay-off we’re getting white exclusivity. The only thing useful about it is to note the race divisions on our dancefloors.

Shield and Spear, on the other hand, mixes up its interviews, expertly revealing its climax – the stifling of Murray and artist Zanele Muholi’s freedom of expression by the ANC state.

http://vimeo.com/92181690

Sure, the film tapped a zeitgeist in its audience. But the talented visiting American director didn’t explore the really current developments around his theme. He secured a rare and lengthy interview with the media-shy Murray, but didn’t present the counter arguments, painting the artist as uncontested hero. It was too easy.

Instead of investigation, Ringbom then bounces the censorship debate off a dazzling line-up of new school talent, notably The Brother Moves On, BLK JKS, Yolanda Fyrus, Fokofpolisiekar and The Smarteez.

I’m unclear on why Ringbom included Gazelle, even going home with him to the conservative small town where he was born and raised.

The artists naturally all spoke out against government in light of the suppression of Muholi and Murray’s work. But devoid of context, it felt manipulative – an easy political victory without documentary interrogation.

Both films ended on a Simunye moment while saying the future could go either way. Future Sound wondered if integration would ever come to the music scene. Shield and Spear kind of creepily got some black and white characters together for a braai and a soccer match, like a Castle advert.

But Ringbom has made a film that no-one in South Africa managed to get together. And Mathambo and Rasethaba have offered us a document for future generations to reference. More power to them.

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