Why open film fest with eye candy when Mandela: The Myth and Me was on offer?

2014-07-20 06:00

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The Durban International Film Festival could just as well have opened with Khalo Matabane’s incisive and meditative documentary Mandela: The Myth and Me instead of Zee Ntuli’s Hard to Get, writes Charl Blignaut.

I have nothing against Ntuli’s debut feature Hard to Get. The female-driven crime thriller made for easy enough viewing – especially on the eye.

The leads – Bonnie and Clyde-style couple Skiets and TK – played by Thishiwe Ziqubu and Pallance Dladla – were hot. Honey. Hot.

In between the sex scenes and car chases and skhothane nation champagne showers in nightclubs, they romped their way home.

Israel Makoe is my baddie of the year so far.

But there was not much ground being broken in this derivative genre flick.

Following hot on the heels of iNumber Number, it’s yet another Hollywood-style local gangster fest that reduces its characters to stereotypes in the name of car chases, fistfights and sweaty skin.

All the slo-mos are in place. Dialogue is sacrificed to action and character suffers.

Who are these people and why are they shooting up shit like this at the opening night of Africa’s largest film festival? We have no real idea.

All we know is that local directors are becoming pros at handling action sequences in a bid to make box office returns.

Frankly, we should be cranking out one of these a month as we celebrate violence instead of getting to grips with it.

Honouring Hard to Get with an opening screening is a stretch for me and a lot of pressure to put on a young director.

On the following night in Durban, on Friday, the opening documentary Madiba: The Myth and Me was screened way out on the local university campus, far from the bling of the Suncoast Casino where the action is.

Why? Sure we’ve had our fill of Mandela stories for the time being, but have we really been having a healthy meal?

On Mandela Day, here was a documentary as original as it is ambitious, which led to a genuinely meaningful discussion afterwards, raising so many questions we should have raised years ago.

In mythologising Mandela, what damage have we done to history and the realities of normal black South Africans?

“Dear Tata Mandela ...” is the narrator’s refrain as he poses a myriad questions about how the world and South Africa sees the former president. Indulgent in a way, but in a good way. Matabane claims his space, making the documentary an extension of his very useful thoughts.

His questions are answered, in part, by a spectacular cast that includes the adorable Dalai Lama, the chilling Colin Powell, the emotional Ariel Dorfman, the brilliant feminist thinker Pumla Gqola, the firebrand activist Nkwame Cedile and normal South Africans in shacks.

“F**k that!” spits Cedile at one point. “Whites never said sorry. [Desmond] Tutu begged them to. How is it that the victim begs the perpetrator to say sorry?”

“Tata Mandela, you believe in reconciliation, but where do you draw the line?” asks Matabane.

“You can forgive and not forget,” responds the Dalai Lama. “If you really forget, what is the point of forgiveness?”

“He took it too far,” says writer Tariq Ali. “If you believe you are a god, you can forgive.”

But it’s Charity Kondile who really answers the question. She testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the brutal torture of her activist son Sizwe.

This is the case where the white men who burned her son’s bones for nine hours commented that his burning flesh smelled good. She refused to sign that she had forgiven the perpetrators.

Matabane tracks her down.

Here is a documentary that revels in complexity, that has no definitive answers, but that asks you to rethink history.

It’s beautifully shot, exquisitely edited and is the loudest kind of quiet I’ve seen in a cinema in a while.

Why not open the festival with it?

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