Film Reviews | by Andre Marais

by Feb 14, 2012Magazine

The Trouble with Truth
Director: Marion Edmunds, 2010
This engaging documentary tells the story of the Guardian newspaper which was banned by the Nationalist government in the 1950s as part of its general onslaught on the anti-apartheid media and anti-communist hysteria. The newspaper reemerged throughout that decade under different titles: Clarion, People’s World, Advance, New Age, and finally Spark. The documentary portrays the paper’s critical role in uniting disparate opponents of the apartheid regime. The film’s contemporary relevance goes without saying and raises critical questions about the value and vulnerability of press freedom worldwide. Issues that have returned on the agenda with a vengeance!
Lyn Carneson (daughter of the paper’s editor, Fred Carneson) led the rich discussion that followed Amandla!’s screening of the film in our Black Wednesday commemoration in October. This magazine has pledged its commitment to getting the film seen by the widest audience possible. Not only because it highlights a forgotten moment of our history, but also because it champions the individuals and movements that fought for press freedom under extremely difficult and repressive circumstances. There’s got to be a lesson in that for all of us.

Howl
Directors: Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein, 2010

Premiered recently at the Out in Africa Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, this historical dramatisation takes up the obscene trial of American beat poet Allen Ginsberg following the publication of his poem ‘Howl’. The film mocks commercial filmmaking techniques by using a challenging style around the prosecution of a revolutionary poem. In a deeply conservative Eisenhower Cold War era the poem hit America like a literary H bomb. The film mounts an attack using animation, simulated interviews with Ginsberg (masterfully and imaginatively played by James Franco) and brief dramatisations of Ginsberg’s life and the landmark obscenity trial that surrounded the birth of a trendsetting piece of literature and signaled the beginning of a new poetic expression and form –  one that broke barriers in how we see the creative process and experimentation, the poet and his art.

The fragmented narrative approach of the film mimics the experimental disjointedness of the original poem, but I suggest you stick with it. It promises to be an incredibly satisfying journey. The film’ release is still unsure, which is really unfortunate, because it would deprive the public of a truly magnificent piece of filmmaking about a figure that revolutionised literature both in style and content.

Black Butterflies

Director: Paula van der Oest, 2010

Ingrid Jonker took her own life by walking into the sea in 1965. Her famous poem ‘Die kind’ (The child) captured her outrage at the Sharpeville massacre. Her tension-filled relationship with the intolerant, staunchly Afrikaner Broederbond and her apartheid-supporting father has become a thing of legend. Jonker’s Bohemian lifestyle was at odds with conservative Afrikanerdom, and her poems and rebellion were considered pure heresy by the establishment. Her work was frequently curtailed by apartheid censorship apparatus headed by her father. Black Butterflies brilliantly portrays the stormy and fraught interplay between Jonker and her unforgiving, unyielding dad.

This Dutch production recreates the period perfectly, and has outstanding performances by a fine ensemble cast of actors, including Carice van Houten as Ingrid and Rutger Hauer as her father.

Oranges and Sunshine
Director: Jim Loach, 2011

Jim Loach is the son of the British socialist filmmaker Ken Loach, and if this movie is anything to go by, I predict another promising career of committed filmmaking. In this film, Emily Watson portrays a social worker from Nottingham, England, who exposed a shameful national crime that remained buried for decades. As recently as 1967, but especially in the 1940s and 1950s, as many as 130 000 English children were removed from orphanages and children’s homes in Britain and deported to various locations in the Commonwealth, particularly Australia. Very few of these children were adopted in their new countries, so they remained in orphanages. One grown-up deportee recalls being told that he was being sent to a sunny paradise where you could pick oranges from trees. Many victims were lied to and told that their parents were dead, and many of the mothers were equally deceived by the state and told that their children were placed in better homes.

I found this a heart-wrenching, true-life horror story that doesn’t exploit a tragic reality for cheap shock. It is a beautiful story of a relentless campaign and crusade for justice. It wasn’t until recently that the Australian and British governments formally apologised for the forced and illegal deportation of these children. A must-see.

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