Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Eat my call up

EAT MY CALL-UP, directed by Naashon Zalk, tells the story of four men who, facing lengthy jail terms, refused to "serve" in the South African Defence Force (SADF) in the 1980's.

From 1967 until 1993 all white males were conscripted into the SADF. The influence of the military increased dramatically after Angola and Mozambique’s independence in 1975 and the Soweto uprising in 1976. The SADF invaded Angola and destabilised much of Southern Africa. In 1984 the army was deployed into the townships, during the first State of Emergency. The penalty for refusing the call-up was a jail sentence of up to six years without parole. In response the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) was launched in 1983.

In 1980 Dr. Ivan Toms built a clinic in Crossroads squatter settlement, near Cape Town. He was the only doctor serving its 60 000 residents. After witnessing the army and police’s brutality in Crossroads he refused to return to the army. In 1988 he was sentenced to 21 months in jail and spent nine months in Pollsmoor prison, seven of those in solitary confinement.

Marius van Niekerk was a Special Forces “parabat”. Fresh out of school, he was deployed in Angola, Rhodesia and Mozambique in 1979 and 1980. Suffering from severe war trauma he went into exile in Sweden rather than go back to the army. He returned to South Africa in 2005 to continue his work counselling war veterans.

Charles Bester was the youngest objector to be imprisoned for his beliefs. In 1988, aged 18, he was sentenced to six years prison and served 20 months in jail.

Andre Zaaiman confronted his Afrikaans community in the search for truth and became a conscientious objector and ANC member in 1986. His decision led him to question his Afrikaner identity and brought the political rifts within his family to a head.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Call for Entries: The Southern African Documentary Co-production Forum (DCF)

Sithengi has - at last - announced its Documentary co-prodiction forum for this year.

"Matching Projects and Broadcasters"

The DCF contributes directly to increased opportunities and improvement in documentary filmmaking in Southern Africa.

Submission Deadline: 17 September 2006, 5pm
(No extensions will be granted)

The criteria for entry into the 2006 DCF are:

At least 20% of your proposed budget has to be secured and/or
A broadcaster must be attached


Download and complete the application form. This form must be signed and faxed to the Projects Co-ordinator at fax: 021 430 8186
Email the following to
1 page synopsis (no longer than 1 page)
3 page treatment (no longer than 3 pages)
1-page budget top sheet
Any letters of intent/commitment from financiers, distributors, broadcasters etc...
1/2-page biography of the producer and 1/2 page biography of the director.
(Total number of pages of application to be emailed: 6 (excluding letters of intent/commitment and the application form)
The lengths of the above application material must be strictly adhered to. Any incomplete applications or application material that is longer than required will be disqualified and no correspondence will be entered into.

In Brief

17 September: Final Deadline for ALL submissions from SA and Africa

16 - 18 November: Sithengi Film & TV Market

For further information contact:
The Projects Officer
Tel: 27 21 430 8160
Fax: 27 21 430 8186

A Lion's Trail

Lion to roar at the Emmies
A Lion's Trail, an hour-long documentary film directed by Francois Verster and produced by Francois Verster, Mark Kaplan and Dan Jawitz, has been nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Cultural & Artistic Programming by the US National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
The film, which has won various festival awards around the world and has been broadcast in seventeen countries, tells the story of how Solomon Linda, a Zulu isicathamiya musician wrote Africa’s most famous song, “Mbube”, how this became the inspiration for the multi-million dollar pop classic “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, and how Linda died with hardly any benefits from the success of the song. It follows the efforts of journalist Rian Malan, folk singer Pete Seeger and others in trying to redress the wrongs of the past. Traveling into the musical worlds of South Africa, England and the US, A LION’S TRAIL celebrates the song’s timeless power while revealing injustices within the international recording industry.

Said Lois Vossen, series producer at ITVS Independent Lens, which broadcast the film in the US and put it forward for nomination, “I am extremely pleased and proud that A LION'S TRAIL has been nominated for an Emmy Award… This is a great honor, of course, and one [the filmmakers] fully deserve.” The winners of the awards will be announced on Monday, September 25 at a black tie awards ceremony in New York City, and the director and producers have been invited to attend the event.

Director Francois Verster said, “This is great news, and comes on the heels of much happy news over the past year in terms of money going back to Linda’s family!”

The film – together with efforts by Rian Malan, US parties and local lawyers - was partly instrumental in persuading local and international rights holders on the song (including The Richmond Organisation, rights holders on “Wimoweh”) to cede future income on the song to the Ntsele (Linda) family. Last year, after a campaign by local copyright lawyers, a settlement was reached whereby Disney paid out a large amount to the Ntsele family in Johannesburg for income from the song through THE LION KING.

A LION’S TRAIL has won various festival awards around the world (including Best Documentary at the Portobello Film Festival, Best Documentary at the 2003 Stone Awards and the Silver Dhow at the Zanzibar Film Festival), and has been broadcast in over fifteen countries. It was produced by Undercurrent Film and Television, Rapid Blue and Ice Media, and was funded by SABC3, the National Film and Video Foundation, the BBC, SBS, RTBF and the IDC. It is being distributed by First Hand Films in Zurich (


Monday, July 17, 2006

Encounters promisses to be best yet

According to Matthew Krouse from the Mail and Guardian this years Encounters documentary festival promises to be the best yet.

Bang bang goes gung ho
The Encounters documentary film festival highlights the responsibility of filmmakers in troubled times, writes Matthew Krouse

The raw material of the documentary filmmaker is misery. The fallout of war, the false hopes of the poor, the battle for survival of almost lost animal species, the territorial skirmishes of underprivileged youth, the painful dissolution of the traditional family and more.

Crafting this misery into entertainment is the documentary filmmakers’ lot. They take us with them on journeys fraught with doubt as, frame for frame, we witness the construction of the work. Even if you don’t appreciate their political views, you’ve got to love them for the commitment to their craft.

Having sat through all eight Encounters documentary film festivals, albeit in my lounge on preview tapes, I am convinced that of all the festivals we’re privileged to have, this is The One. In short, the programme tells us that this year there are 56 titles, including a record number of 20 local works.

In the early days of South African television, the nation’s understanding of the documentary form was based largely on the Thames Television series The World at War. Week upon week (26 in all) we sat glued to the box as cadavers piled up in faraway Europe. Mum knitted and dad puffed on his pipe sternly as Lord Lawrence Olivier’s exquisite narration droned on.

The world’s most acclaimed documentary, it seemed, had been made by God himself.

Today the divine presence is very much out the picture and the handmade aspect of the documentary is in. There is scarcely a work on the festival that isn’t narrated in first person by the director. Stock in trade is the cellphone. There are hours of conversations in moving cars with evasive, guilty parties adamant that they are not to be filmed. Nick Broomfield is the master of the genre -- “his idiosyncratic style of filmmaking has been called not so much fly on the wall as fly in the soup”.

When Broomfield arrives as a festival guest, perhaps someone will ask him what it is about the simpletons of the far right that keep him coming back for more. Broomfield’s recent work, His Big White Self, is a follow-up to his earlier look at Eugene Terreblanche in The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife.

Watching His Big White Self, locals will experience a sort of sick nostalgia for the chubby, red necks poking out of self-important safari suits. But Broomfield is a master of redemption, and he befriends the most unlikely of characters. This “apparently bumbling and chaotic Englishman who disarms his subjects”, as he’s referred to, finds worthy qualities in all his adversaries.

For a more in depth review of His Big White Self read this one on the Kwailwai* sister site Mhambi.

Read the whole Mail and Guardian article here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela: A Son's Tribute to Unsung Heroes

The New York-born filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris first set eyes on the central South African city Bloemfontein in 2000 at the funeral of his stepfather, a long-exiled veteran of the struggle against apartheid. The two men had not been especially close. But when mourners warmly embraced Harris as the son and spiritual heir of Benjamin Pule Leinaeng, known as Lee, Harris began re- examining their connection as well as the many meanings of exile.

His new film, "Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela: A Son's Tribute to Unsung Heroes," is the result of his look at that connection and the life of Leinaeng and 11 comrades who left South Africa in 1960 after the banning of the African National Congress and spent the next three decades agitating from abroad for an end to white minority rule.

"The film really saved my life," said Harris, who wrote, produced and directed "Disciples." He used actors from Bloemfontein, who improvised their lines on the basis of a script outline that relied on Leinaeng's archives and interviews with seven surviving "disciples." (Three have since died.)

"All of my work is about identity," said Harris, an African-American who is gay and dislikes giving his age. "This film works on many levels: the meaning of diaspora, the reconciliation between me and Lee, the reconciliation between people and their country."

"Disciples," which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, was nominated for a 2006 Independent Spirit Award. The 73-minute film was also named best documentary at the Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles this year.

Mingling documentary and re-enactment, "Disciples" tells both the story of the 12 young men who had met in high school in Bloemfontein, joined an ANC youth cell and then dispersed to points all over the world, and the story of Harris; his mother, Rudean Leinaeng; and his younger brother, Lyle Ashton.

This family of black intellectuals in the Bronx was enamored of the pan-African movement and lived in Tanzania for a while, but in the film Harris also recalls being both wary of and enchanted by Leinaeng, an exotic foreigner who slaughtered sheep in the family's backyard.

Leinaeng, a journalist, married Harris's divorced mother, a chemistry professor, in 1976.

"At the funeral it was like looking in the mirror, and everything shattered," Harris said in an interview. "I realized I had followed Lee: I had become a political journalist, I had become a filmmaker, I have a revolutionary attitude toward my work."

Early in "Disciples" is a grainy scene of a 1999 Father's Day celebration at the family's home. It was the last time Harris saw Leinaeng, who died the next year at 63. Harris says in his narration for the film, "He had raised me since I was 9 years old, but I had never called him Father."

Harris is perhaps best known for the award-winning 2001 documentary "I Minha Cara/That's My Face," which, along with "Disciples" and "Vintage: Families of Value" (1995), forms a trilogy about his family and identity, whether sexual, racial or national. After graduating from Harvard in 1984 with a biology degree, Harris turned to film as a way to express himself.

The title of his latest film is derived from his boyhood imaginings of his stepfather's life. "I used to look at the photographs of them, and there were 12 of them," Harris recalled. "I came from a religious background - AME - and I thought they must be the 12 disciples of Nelson Mandela." (He was referring to the African Methodist Episcopal church.)

Although their names are largely lost to history, the "disciples" were among the foot soldiers of the African National Congress in exile, igniting sanctions and boycotts against South Africa. The film documents not just how the men worked to dismantle apartheid but also the loneliness of exile and, for those who came to the United States, the shock of the U.S. brand of racism.

"Thirty years is a hell of a time, it's a hell of a time," Leinaeng says near the end of "Disciples."

While in exile, Leinaeng earned a journalism degree from Temple University in Philadelphia, set up an ANC office in New York City in 1972, became a staff member at the United Nations' anti-apartheid unit and in the late 1980s served as acting chairman of the ANC regional political committee. He also produced an anti-apartheid radio program that was broadcast in South Africa. He returned to his homeland in 1995, after the end of apartheid.

Beyond Harris's personal motives in turning his camera on his family's role in a worldwide struggle, "Disciples" fleshes out a story that, like the U.S. civil rights movement, is often dominated by outsize leaders. While Mandela is well known, Harris said he had to start cobbling together the Bloemfontein story without benefit of books, articles or films.

His efforts have made him a hero to some in Bloemfontein. "There has never been a film tracing the people who left South Africa," Bethuel Setai, a 67- year-old "disciple" who is a former director general of the Free State Province, said in an interview from Bloemfontein. "So many people believe the struggle began in 1976 with Soweto. This shows this whole struggle has been a relay race."

Mochubela Seekoe, a 67-year-old "disciple" who became South Africa's ambassador to Russia, was, like Setai, delighted by the film.

"Our children will know what happened and who these people are," he said in a telephone interview from Bloemfontein. "I was touched and I was happy."

Isabella Winkie Direko, 76, who had been the disciples' teacher and later became premier of the Free State Province, which includes Bloemfontein, said the film had already had "a terrific impact on the city.

"The younger ones are impressed by the amount of work they did as exiles," she said. "The older people have gone down memory lane about what they endured."

As for Harris, the film project made him more aware of the history in his midst.

"I tell young people, 'Turn off the TV and interview the oldest person in your family,'" he said. "We have all the stories we need."

NY Times

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Bridget Jones Phenomenon

The Bridget Jones Phenomenon
in South Africa
South Africa 2006 48min
Dir: Wendy Hardie

In this dynamic, pertinent and fun investigation, four talented, beautiful, independent and unmarried thirty-something women embark on a quest to see if they are the only women in Cape Town, or indeed the world, who are still single. And if so, why? Growing up on a rich diet of romantic fairytales, the four sassy, successful singletons sip cosmopolitans and wonder just what is keeping their knight in shining armour. Has woman’s lib literally given him the willies? Have men been left behind in the changing times? Is compromise as dirty a word as commitment? Would he rather sit in a Jacuzzi surrounded by buxom twenty-somethings? Despite an irreverent approach Hardie asks some hard-hitting, insightful questions, and not just, where have all the good men gone?


Bushman’s Secrets

Bushman’s Secrets
South Africa 2006 64min Subtitles
Dir: Rehad Desai

Deep within the Kalahari live the original custodians of Africa. In this hostile environment, the San’s ancient knowledge ensures a symbiotic relationship with the harsh climate, plants and animals. But for centuries, the San were judged as inferior and their land exploited. Today they are still marginalised and, unable to hunt and gather, continue to live in poverty. Then one of their medicine plants, hoodia, is discovered as a miracle diet drug and has been patented by a giant pharmaceutical company. Just what does this now mean for the Khomani San – unknown riches or the plant vanishing from the landscape? The filmmaker walks through the Kalahari with a traditional healer, Jan van der Westhuizen, to explore the collision of corporate might and ancient ways.
Uhuru Productions