Open City Film: 8 films, 3 days - The Mail & Guardian

Joan Legalamitlwa, the curator of Open City Film, knows that films deserve seated respect, not nose-around-the-corner sniffing at

2021-10-23 04:06:00 AM

Open City Film: 8 films, 3 days - Joan Legalamitlwa, the curator of Open City Film, knows that films deserve seated respect, not nose-around-the-corner sniffing at

Joan Legalamitlwa, the curator of Open City Film, knows that films deserve seated respect, not nose-around-the-corner sniffing at

Mutwa(2020), a two-hander featuring Patricia Boyers and performance artist Albert Ibokwe Khoza as Credo Mutwa, is many things, except for slick. In summary, the film offers a speculative reading of Mutwa, the enigmatic Zulu mystic and author who died in March 2020.

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“We have lost a human library, a human database, a century of Zulu learning, thought and knowledge, a hundred years of Afro-consciousness,” states a voiceover early into the film.The zingy wardrobe is a hybrid of Afrofuturist aspiration, à la jazzman Sun Ra circa 1972 in borrowed Egyptian costume, and AfrikaBurn chic. The dialogue is jaunty, but too easily tips over into indictment and academicism. It quotes verbatim Achille Mbembe’s speculation, from a 2015 essay, that: “The African predicament will constitute the main cultural and philosophical event of the 21st century.”

Both Molema and Passchier’s films slot into a riot grrrl idiom of local film. It was ushered in by artist Tracey Rose and has a new star inTabita Rezaire, a French-born Guyanese-Danish artist based, until recently, in Johannesburg. Stylistically, this fem-positive filmmaking weds slapstick with sprightly amateurism, without forsaking the underlying seriousness of purpose. headtopics.com

The contributions by Cape Town painter Penny Siopis and Egyptian-born French filmmaker Jihan el-Tahri are visually very different, in part because they recall earlier histories and conventions of filmmaking. Both artists were strongly influenced by events predating the “new pantheism” and “black quantum futurism” of Passchier’s generation.

In the late 1990s, William Gálvez’s bookChe in Africalifted the lid on Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara’s clandestine activities in the newly independent Democratic Republic of the Congo. El-Tahri, an Emmy-nominated director of 15 films, read the book shortly after its publication. Her short documentary

Comradesdetails what happened next.El-Tahri travelled to Cuba and sought out the surviving soldiers who travelled to the DRC via Tanzania in 1964. She visited Havana neighbourhoods with noticeable blackpopulations, knocked on doors, and asked respondents, “Do you know anyone who fought with Che?”

In all, she found 92 combatants. One of them laughs in her film when he recalls the ill-fitting civilian clothes he and his compatriots wore to hide their identities. The film also includes interviews with Congolese resistance fighters. One speaks of the language barrier separating the Francophone Africans from the idealistic Spanish-speaking revolutionaries with Swahili codenames like Tatu (Che). headtopics.com

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El-Tahri’s film details an extraordinary history in a conventional documentary style of witness testimony intercut with archival images. This is not a criticism. If anything, her labour can appear too self evident. One of the difficulties El-Tahri encountered in making

Comradeswas finding Congolese and Cuban archives to work with. “If we’re going to tell history from our own perspective,” said El-Tahri in 2012, we need to acknowledge the role of images in telling “own story”.A still from Penny Siopis’ Obscure White Messenger (2010)

This understanding of images as signifiers of time and place also informs the films of Siopis. In 1997, at the instigation of Enwezor,made her first film using found footage,My Lovely Day(1997). The film is a collage of antique white rituals that Siopis complicates by adding an autobiographical narrative in the subtitles.

Legalamitlwa has selected Siopis’s acclaimed 2010 filmObscure White Messenger for Open City. The film combines 8mm home-movie footage with the narrative of Demitrios Tsafendas, the slayer of Hendrik Verwoerd, culled from various sources. It is an extraordinarily absorbing film, and moving too in the way it seeks — like Chologi’s headtopics.com

TheShack— to penetrate the mind of an unseen protagonist.In a 2017 essay about Tsafendas, writer Hedley Twidle argues that, in the decades after apartheid, “there is a risk of making [Tsafendas] too meaningful, too quickly”. Siopis knows this, although I am less sure about Passchier, who lionises a man noted for his troubling legacy of collaboration and quackery. I could be wrong.

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