Short films: Turning up the volume on the sub-altern

Promised Land Fallacy. Photo: Supplied/NAF

The conceptual framework of the liberation project known as “the new South Africa” requires that the multiplicity of its voices enjoy equal prominence. Moving away from the pre-1994 dispensation, this requires that our imaginations be provided with conceptual tools to imagine the lived experiences of those held at the fringes – away from the cultural centre maintained by minority interests. The curated film programme of the National Arts Festival curated by Dylan Valley works to unmute the previously silenced by turning up the volume on films he believes “are speaking into the voids left by the fault lines in our society”. The curated programme also considered the marginalisation of platforms – disrupting the uneasy silence, to create the possibility for viewers to expand our “one-dimensional understanding of ourselves”.

Mixed Spaces

Disrupting the uniformity maintained by the high-barriers of entry to traditional film production, Mixed Spaces is a web-documentary by Zara Julius. The short film centres on people of colour, and focuses on the ignored trauma experienced by the majority of the community. It leaves no stone unturned – questioning the long-standing political and societal barriers which consistently exclude people of colour.

Although seeing something in a movie is not as real as living it, the audience gets a heartfelt representation of a first-hand experience. As the documentary plays, the raw ordeal experienced by the film’s subjects leaves the audience to question and introspect on their complicity – reflection leading one to question one’s own role in enforcing the exclusive status quo. Some may blame society for its members’ ignorance, while others may argue that it is within each one’s responsibility to become informed.

The documentary suggested that ignorance of any kind due to your privileges (whether due to race or class) can be seen as a resistance to change. The privileged acting as congesting traffic, frustrating the free-flow of traffic mobilising to achieve collective freedom. Failing to read the signs, the privileged employ people of colour as points people to direct them through the network of roads leading to collective freedom. An unfair burden for those who have to put their lives on the line to assert their humanity – forcing the excluded to put their lives on hold, to educate. It is within oneself, as a privileged person, to self educate.

While the documentary inspired some critical introspection, it raised more questions than it answered – leaving one to figure out the right way to act and behave. Relying on self-reflection to inspire the audience to leave the experience, with a will to go out and deepen their understanding of how to avoid being an enemy of freedom, and join the allied forces.

The Promised Land Fallacy

This documentary unveils the dream sold to the queer community that the city of Cape Town is safe for them. A land of milk and honey. Sadly, these students are disheartened as they realise the extent of the facade. The Promised Land Fallacy is a short documentary by Kyla Philander focused on the University of Cape Town’s LGTI student community – a key driving force in the Rhodes Must Fall and broader student movement, paradoxically marginalised in a collective struggle for a more inclusive institutional culture.

As the lights fade out, the audience is disarmed by the statement that “there is no such thing that Cape Town is a queer space”. I was appalled by the emotional suffering dealt by these students as they share their experiences in a place they presumed safe, but which turned out to be hostile to their identities.

“Where to now?” was the question on my mind. Painful as it was, one was compelled to ask “what can I do?” to make a positive impact. The documentary engenders a bond between the audience and the students it represents. It looked at the audience for answers to the present delicate situation the students found themselves in. An overall conclusion suggested that the problem is ours to solve. Like Mixed Space, “The Promised Land Fallacy” encourages one to pluck the log from ones eyes.

By Oscar Vilanculos