Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

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Directed by: Lee Hirsch.
Produced by: Hirsch & Sherry Simpson.
Director of Photography: Brand Jordaan, Ivan Leathers & Clive Sacke.
Edited by: Johanna Demetrakas.
Released by: Artisan.
Country og Origin: South Africa/USA. 108 min. Rated: PG-13.
With: Vusi Mahlasela, Hugh Masekela, & Dolly Rathebe.
DVD Special Features: Commentary by Hirsch & Simpson. Q & A with the filmmakers. Vusi Mahlasela in Concert. Dave Mathews Interview. Deleted Scenes. Four Sing-A-Longs. Additional Production Notes. Trailers.

South African composer Abdullah Ibrahim and other musicians, poets, and activists discuss how songs were used in the liberation struggle against Apartheid, the “policy of good neighborliness” as its founder, former South African Prime Minister H.F. Verwoerd, chillingly described it. “The thing that saved us was music,” Ibrahim says. “The only revolution done in four part harmony.” This documentary's interviews and archival footage recount the forced relocation of blacks to townships, the mandatory identification passbooks in the 1950s, the impact of the 1976 Sharpeville Riots, and the armed resistance and banishment of the political dissidents in the 1980s. Songs - harmonious and often sung a cappella - were used to organize resistance (amandla means power in Zulu), instill pride, and prepare for death. Even love songs were songs of struggle. Covering much ground culturally and historically, this engaging and well-structured documentary will especially appeal to world music aficionados or those whose appetite for South African music have been whetted by the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Paul Simon’s album Graceland.
April 24, 2003

Extras: The mini-concert of Vusi Mahlasela is an opportunity to hear more South African music. Several of the deleted scenes also offer snippets of songs. Interestingly, in one omitted interview a singer states, “It’s almost ridiculous to sing a freedom song now.” Yet, in the production notes, director Hirsch provocatively and vaguely encourages the re-invention and re-consideration the role song could play in current and future political movements, including “the mass movement fighting American imperialism.”
October 18, 2003


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