A stunned silence

2013-12-07 00:00

THERE was silence and then emotional scenes when Durban filmmaker Anant Singh had to announce after the European premiere of his film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom in London, that the icon had died.

“I was informed of Madiba’s death when the film still had 15 minutes to run,” said Singh, speaking to Weekend Witness from London yesterday. “His daughter Zindzi Mandela was also there and I met with her and other members of the Mandela family and they said we must let it play on as ‘it is what he would have wanted’.”

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom had been selected as this year’s Royal Film Performance and the audience at the Odeon in London’s Leicester Square included Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

When the film ended, Singh, accompanied by its star Idris Elba and director Justin Chadwick, got up onto the stage to announce Mandela’s death.

“We would have been getting up for a standing ovation — in fact there was a standing ovation and I had to quieten the audience. I then made the announcement that Madiba had died. There was a silence and then people began crying. It was hugely emotional.”

Singh first contacted Mandela while he was still in prison. “I wrote him a letter and said I would like to make a film of his life.”

After Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, Singh met Mandela in person for the first time. “I met him at Fatima Meer’s house in Durban for an hour-and-a-half a week after his release.”

Thus began a friendship spanning 23 years. Singh said that as a human being there was no one better formed than Mandela in terms of thoughtfulness.

“But Madiba had so many levels of significance — his down to earth nature, his dignity, his humility. He said to me once, ‘I’m an everyman; I’m all people.’

“I have seen him so many times and in so many places and he would interact with people — whether they were a barman or a king or a queen — and treat them all as equally important.” Singh said Mandela had taken a keen interest in the film made of his life. “He would say ‘Don’t rush. I trust you.’”

When the film was completed a year ago, Singh took footage of particular scenes and production stills to show Mandela. “When he saw Idris he said: ‘Is that me?’ He still had that unique sense of humour.”

As a mark of respect, all screenings of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom were cancelled in South Africa yesterday.

Singh said the lasting impression he had of Mandela was his magnanimity, “and the reach of who he is — it’s global.

“I’ve been on this journey for so many years and there is no one quite like him. The outpouring of love and sorrow in the weeks to come will be unprecedented.”

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