Movie review – Fresh views on HIV/Aids

2012-08-11 05:47

‘There’s a huge disconnect between filmmakers and audiences.

We’re snobbish. Look at how an average filmmaker perceives Leon Schuster,” says Rolie Nikiwe, walking me through his film philosophy.

It’s not complicated. “We need to start making more films that people want to see,” says the self-assured 32-year-old.

His debut feature, Inside Story, is an African soccer film charged with sports action and human drama. It’s also part of an HIV-education project.

As such, it’s an antidote to what we perceive as the typical South African “Aids film”.

You know the kind: the poignant story of extraordinary courage in a rural area that comes across as sombre and really important.

Nikiwe’s film is an urban drama about living with the virus. HIV isn’t the other, it’s inside.

It lives in Kalu, a young Kenyan footballer who is bought by a South African club.

Kalu’s adversaries shape his choices – a rival player, an odious soccer boss, the HIV he’s contracted. But he bonds with his coach and falls in love with a young Nigerian woman.

Developed as a Discovery Channel education initiative, research indicated that young Africans want to know more about the science of HIV and Aids – the actual T-Cells, antibodies and red blood cells of it.

Discovery considered making a documentary before settling on a narrative film.

Nikiwe was brought in by producers Quizzical Pictures. The company had fostered him since he was a film school dropout and he rose as a TV drama director and ideas man.

Tsha Tsha, for example, was sculpted by his experiences growing up in Eastern Cape.

“My thing was: I can see what you’re trying to put across, but this is a film and entertainment is everything. I stopped seeing anything except a sports film. The message had to be integral to the football.

If people aren’t watching, then the messages are in vain,” Nikiwe says.

He bobs his baby dreads up and down, filling up his couch, looking like any successful director – tired, with a creased brow and bags under his eyes.

He’s on the next season of Intersexions and he’s developing another feature.

“The whole Aids issue has evolved. For me it’s time to sell a little hope to a young person and say your life is special. It’s important that you keep healthy.”

The film’s ambitious distribution targets TV channels across the continent before DVDs will be given to schools.

“We want 300 million African kids to see it,” says Nikiwe in earnest.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is another new feature about HIV called Accession.

At this stage, if it’s seen by 300 Africans it’ll be surprising.

Director Michael J Rix has given up smoking. He’s shaven-headed and serious, speaking quietly. He’s a little taken aback by the hostility that greeted Accession at its Durban premiere.

It’s a documentary-style, experimental feature about John, a bored, unemployed young man, the product of a dysfunctional system.

Developed with actor Pethro Themba Mbole, the camera tracks John’s days.

“You’re stuck with this guy, you have to sit it out,” says Rix, who spent weeks hanging out with the lads of Duduza.

“The guys who aren’t working are just hanging around. They don’t have a hobby or anything, if there are beers going they’ll have a beer. If there’s sex going they’ll have sex.”

John sleeps with several partners. When one tells him she has HIV, he buys into the myth that he can be cured by having sex with a virgin.

The film expels the myth through scenes of sexual violence. They’re not graphic, but they’re harrowing.

“I didn’t want the virus to be the focal point, because we’ve been over that. I wanted this to be about the character and what leads him to do what he does. We need to talk about it.”

I saw Accession as a piece of cinema activism that shocks you awake, but in Durban more than half its audiences walked out, unable to sit through a story that we read about in the papers every day.

“As filmmakers, we are not saying we have a solution,” says Rix. “The intention is to shine a light.”

Accession has no further local bookings.

It’s off to the Tokyo International Film Festival while Inside Story plans to conquer a continent.

Both are equally important in offering a new way of sending a message.

“Don’t get it twisted,” says Nikiwe. “There is fatigue when it comes to the issues. It’s not necessarily about the issues, but how they’re being delivered.”

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