I was a sceptic; I thought it could not be done. I did not believe that London could host such an important global event, let alone pull it off with such grandiose confidence. But now the Olympics are over and to be honest, I don’t want it to end. Particularly considering my last images may be that of Jessie J ruining Queen, or Liam Gallagher proving he needs Noel. But with Britain standing 3rd in the medal rankings, we can be proud of our athletes’ efforts. Whether it was handball, hockey or dressage, my eyes were opened to the magic of the Olympics and I’m sad to see them go. So why not cling on for a little bit longer and join me as I attempt to blur the realms of Film and the Summer Olympics.
Hopefully you read part 1 where I chose films that represented: North Korea, Jamaica, Iran, Argentina & Mexico. If you did not, shame on you, but you can find it here: Olympics 2012 in Film part 1
And now here is part 2 of my Film Olympics.
South Africa – 70 Medals
South Africa has a rich film history dating back to the turn of the 20th century; unfortunately its cinema is tainted by the racial divide at the country’s core. This provided an avenue for artists to vent their anger and disgust at the racial injustice, but it also helped to imprint such a horrible social attitude onto the country’s cinematic past. In early 20th century South African cinema, much of its audiences were Black slaves, with the cultural output being made predominantly by white landowners to damage their belief in their own history and self-worth. Many European film companies were the creators of such propagandist films, which reinforced white supremacist ideologies.
Even in contemporary cinema the issue still remains at the core of South African exports. And although the Apartheid has supposedly ended, its history will never be forgotten in a country which still has extremely tense racial relations. With nearly half of its population living below the poverty line; impoverishment still remains a major contemporary issue for the country. It is not only its own domestic cinema that aims to tackle such issues, with many established western studios making films based around South African narratives. Clint Eastwood’s recent Invictus is just one example of this. However, its own cinema seems to be garnering an increasing amount of acclaim in recent years, with more and more talent emerging from the country which has lacked any clear cinematic identity.
Bronze – Cry, The Beloved Country (Darrell Roodt, 1995)
Made a year after the last traces of Apartheid legislation had ended, Cry, The Beloved Country is the second adaptation of Alan Paton’s book of the same name. Given the books optimistic quality towards racial integration, it seems fitting that it was remade after legislation had all but evaporated. The book was written before the apartheid had taken effect, giving rise to the warning signs of fractures between the races. The film starts with Reverend Kumalo who goes to Jo’burg to look for his missing son and daughter. He soon finds his daughter but discovers that his brother is encouraging the upheaval of the white leadership.
Unfortunately his son also becomes embroiled in the murder of a young white man, Arthur, who ironically, was an advocate of black rights. Arthur’s father James, has different views however, and is depicted as a white supremacist land owner. Through the differing emotional grief that they both encounter, Kumalo and James signal hope for South Africa as they unite in their sorrow. The two central performances of Kumale (James Earl Jones) and James (Richard Harris) carry the film, but it is the timing of its release which makes it so important. Released shortly after the apartheid, it brought Paton’s ideas to fruition, in a time where the hope for racial equality has begun to be realised.
Silver – District 9 (Neil Blomkampf, 2009)
I have a feeling this decision may court some controversy. It clearly hasn’t been around that long, so without any time to embed itself into South African cinema, how have I given it Silver? Well in the broader sense it may be one of the best sci-fi films of recent history, if not, it is certainly one of the best alien invasion movies ever made. But it reaches the podium because of the allegory, deep within its narrative. An alien ship arrives over the cityscape of Johannesburg, but instead of going all Independence Day on the city, it instead comes to a standstill. Upon contact, its alien inhabitants prawn-like in appearance, are malnourished and weak. So when a reconnaissance team is sent to investigate, they offer to help the aliens allowing them onto earth. But when the population of Jo’burg become agitated by their presence, it is ordered that they remain segregated in an area known as District 9.
When Wikus, the protagonist of the story, is sent to help with the segregation, he becomes embroiled in a much larger plot than he could imagine. It is clear to see the immediate allegorical link between the ‘Prawn’s’ captivity and the apartheid. With private security firms being hired to contain the aliens (much like in reality to keep black South Africans apart from whites) the comparison becomes even stronger. Blomkampf’s confidence in tackling this subject through the genre of sci-fi is breathtakingly superb; particularly when you consider this was his first feature film, albeit one which is based upon a short film of his. It is not easy tackling such a problematic subject within a genre piece, but Blomkampf however does it by refusing to shy away from its allegory, instead he accepts it and continues to pump more and more into it. This is not just another sci-fi flick, it means so much more.
Gold – Come Back, Africa (Lionel Rogosin, 1959)
An extremely important film, which shot in secret, has to be considered one of the greatest covert pieces of filmmaking. Directed by Lionel Rogosin a New Yorker with a documentary filmmaking legacy, the film has often been praised for its influence on African cinema. Spending months planning to shed light on the fascism and racism of the apartheid, Rogosin went to great lengths to ensure that his film was made. Come Back, Africa was filmed with the fear of being discovered by an apartheid government,which looked to stamp out any criticisms or challenges to the horrendous status quo it had created. It follows the life of Zachariah, a black African with a wife and child who are abused both mentally and physically by the laws of the apartheid. Constantly striving to make a living, he is continually forced back to unemployment by whites.
With unemployment a constant issue, the anxiety that he will not be able to provide for his family, is at times to much to bare. His living conditions don’t help either, cramped in a black’s only settlement, many societal issues such as violence rise within. And when he has an altercation with a local Tsotsi gang leader, the consequences for him and his family are dire. One of the only films to portray Black South African’s in a positive light, Come Back, Africa should forever be seen as one of the most liberating acts in cinema. Exposing the affect the apartheid had on a black man looking to provide for his family, Rogosin takes away the ‘black’ from the man and presents a tale of humanity repressing humanity for ones self-belief in dominance. Banned in 1959, it wasn’t until 1988 that it got its first extremely important showing in the country. I’m unsure as to if there will ever be a more important screening in world cinema.