Have You Heard from Johannesburg?
Time Out New York Project: Issue #759, April 15–21, 2010
Dir. Connie Field. 2010. N/R. 8hrs 37mins. Documentary.
The running time may make you blanch, but Connie Field’s seven-part documentary about the history and eventual dissolution of South African apartheid is well worth the commitment. This is a clear-eyed, fast-moving portrait of a horrible period, which the director reconstructs through a wealth of present-day interviews and archival footage. Every part could stand on its own (Film Forum is grouping them into three separate programs), yet the doc’s real impact is cumulative.
Opening with the 1990 prison release of Nelson Mandela, the film quickly returns to the 1948 introduction of apartheid, then moves along a mostly straight timeline, tracing the escalating resistance in country and out. Important activists like Oliver Tambo and Steve Biko figure prominently in early episodes, while later installments offer in-depth examinations of the sports and corporation boycotts that were instrumental in forcing South Africa’s hand.
Though the right side of history is now abundantly clear, the words, images and testimonials speak to the muck that all involved had to trudge through to force change (with so many conflicting viewpoints, it couldn’t possibly have happened overnight). The value of Field’s film is in how it shows the snowball effect of persistent protest: Hate eventually buckled, though the melancholy of the movie’s final passages suggests there’s much more injustice to bring to light.—Keith Uhlich