Our top ten war films

1 All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone, 1930). Archaic acting, yet still the mother of all battle films. Episodic, random; candid about mud, rats and lice ...

2 La Grande Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937).
The father of all anti-war films. Prison camp escape drama, acute about the behavioural artifices necessary to war.

3 Fires Were Started (Humphrey Jennings, 1943). Docu-drama on the London Fire Brigade in the Blitz. Vivid about ordinary civilians for whom total war means a daily job combating disaster, for whom the enemy is an impersonal entity.

4 Kanal (Andrezj Wajda, 1956). The ultimate losers’ film - because it follows closely, and attaches you deeply, to Polish resistance fighters whose survival you and they hope for.

5 It Happened Here (Kevin Brownlow/ Andrew Mollo, 1963). “Recreation” of the occupation of Britain. Visually amazing; crude, but convincing in its ruthlessness and moral ambiguity.

6 War and Peace (Sergei Bondarchuk, 1967). Lousy Tolstoy, but the definitive logistics movie - many soldiers and weapons.

7 The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo), 1965). Even-handed, non-judgmental, quasi- documentary of the war of colonial liberation. Paced like a thriller, yet based on the politics.

8 The Big Red One (Samuel Fuller, 1980). Fuller’s Hollywood-cast but non-narrative autobiography of his WWII infantry unit.

9 The Night of San Lorenzo (Taviani Brothers, 1981). War as folk memories of an Italian village at the end of WWII. Abruptly cruel humour and extreme excitement ...

10 Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985). Shows medieval Japan - completely based on the regular, formal conduct of war.

@The missionary imposition

God Bless Africa, the first-ever television history of missionaries and Africa, is set to be screened on SABC3 in December. GLYNIS O’HARA reports

GOD Bless Africa, a three-part documentary to be shown on SABC3 on December 19, 26 and January 2, is one of those rare, valuable TV animals - a locally made historical documentary. They’ve always been few and far between on our TV stations, but now that we perhaps have the time and the will to recover our history, we’re faced with a new problem.

With the exchange rate as bad as it is, film-makers simply cannot afford the expensive fees for visual material charged by international archives. And a lot of our history is stored in vaults in Europe, explained Lesley Lawson, the director and researcher. “Work like this is getting harder and harder to do,” she said.

The series is the first ever history of the missionaries undertaken for TV and it grew out of Lawson’s directorial and research work on the history of the ANC - Ulibamba Lingashoni: Hold Up the Sun - flighted in 1992.

God Bless Africa opens with President Mandela’s visit to Genadendal, the first mission station in the country, established in 1737. Mandela has acknowledged his debt to mission education by renaming his residence after this station.

It then plunges straight into the ambiguities of mission activity, and raises the fact that missionaries often told local people their culture was evil. However, the irrepressible Bishop Tutu adds that freedom would not have come without the missionary message, “because they also brought one of the most fantastic things, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Bible, which turned out to be one of the most revolutionary things available”.

“I knew the missions were important formative forces for many of the ANC leaders,” says Lawson, “but I also had in mind that they were the standard bearers of colonialism, the spiritual and ideological wing of the colonial forces. But none of the ANC people I interviewed would say that. I decided there was much more to the role of the missions than I had thought and I wanted to get to the bottom of it.

“Before there had either been church histories, which were thus hagiographies, or Marxist critiques, but there is now a new historical view of missions, looking at personal histories and values as much as social forces. It looks at individual missionaries and converts and who they were, in a much more complex way.

“Also, it’s clear that missionaries were the only film-makers who even saw black people and filmed black life from about the 1920s onwards. I realised there was a wealth of material in church archives. We didn’t have enough money for everything we’d like but we did find rare footage in England and Germany. There is an American archive too, but we couldn’t locate it.”

In the first part, Frontiers, we’re taken through early history, with comments from contemporary church people. The second part, called Transformations, carries the story further and discusses the lives of early converts and how difficult it was, and is, to marry two cultures.

Indeed, marriage was one of the big areas of conflict, with polygamy seen as a grievous sin by the church and leading to heartache and disruption when, for example, second and third wives were renounced. It also looks at the first black missionaries, like Tiyo Soga, ordained in 1856, and the role of mission education.

The third part, called Divisions, enters the 20th century and discusses the evolution of apartheid, especially within the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK), which established separate churches in 1880.

But it was not only the Afrikaans church that had this philosophy. By the turn of the century, the indigenous clergy were the backbone of the mission church, but they were seldom regarded as equals.

They responded by breaking away to form their own churches. The first, the Ethiopian church, was established in 1883, with Zionist churches soon following, led by figures like James Dwane and the prophet Isaiah Shembe, who established a village on 1 000ha of land.

Later, the apartheid state launched an all- out assault on missions, putting an end to their educational efforts as well as driving off labour tenants in terms of the Group Areas Act. Bernard Spong, the last missionary sent out here by the London Missionary Society in the 1960s, describes the closing of Tigerkloof School as a result of the Bantu Education Act.

In the face of these assaults, most stations decided to close. The apartheid state ruined lives and opportunities, not to mention totally destroying excellent resources. But some of them, including Tigerkloof, have since 1990 been reconstituted.

Lawson interviewed few academics for the series, concentrating instead on people in the church. “We decided to interview people for whom the history is part of everyday life, making it relevant to the here and now.

“I was concerned as an outsider to make a film with an insider perspective and not to make a film that would offend church leaders. Indeed, the criticisms of the missions come from the church leaders themselves.”

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