So why did the chicken cross the road? (The last time I asked this question, it was to get away from the Baxter Theatre where Brett Bailey was directing a show!) This time, the chicken crossed the road to support the South African film industry. In fact, quite a few chickens have given it up for a Golden Bear, for a lot of Nando’s lemon and herb went into the making of U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, probably our first free (musical) range movie.
You have to love this country. Ten years ago opera was a five-letter word associated with white privilege and exclusivity, consuming a disproportionate amount of limited public resources. Today, our finance minister is dishing out CDs to fellow MPs of the soundtrack to a European opera, translated into Xhosa, made into a movie, directed by a Briton and funded — in part — by our nation’s love of (ahem, white) meat. How cool is that?
Proudly South African flags are hoisted in the contradictory winds of the indigenous and imported, of former coloniser and colony, of Africa and Europe, representing the creation of a uniquely local cultural product but with global cultural influences.
Then, we might have said goodbye to ThisDay, but we’ve hailed the coming of Yesterday, a movie with many home-grown parts. So it might not have won an Oscar, but the very nomination has everyone puffing out their chests in patriotic pride faster than one can say ”rugby” or ”cricket”. Talking of which, in 10 years, these two movies represent a degree of ”transformation” that these major sports will not see for years to come, despite being able to muster significant resources towards this end. And these movies have done it without quota systems, without transformation charters, without the tyrannies of political intervention.
What is also remarkable is that they have achieved artistic excellence, critical acclaim and a ”transformation agenda” with very little funding from the public sector.
Both movies celebrate indigenous languages, but there has been no funding from the Pan South African Language Board. Both have their stars and actors drawn from ”historically disadvantaged communities”, and the music for Yesterday was composed by Madala Kunene, well known in Durban for his traditional music. Mark Donford-May of the United Kingdom directed U-Carmen eKhayelitsha (hey, Bafana Bafana have Stuart Baxter), but Yesterday is directed by homeboy, Darrell Roodt.
The National Film and Video Foundation provided some public funding support to Yesterday, but the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund — not exactly a film-financing agency — supported the making of this film. Spier, with its sound track record of supporting the arts, formed Spier Films especially to make U-Carmen eKhayelitsha.
But that’s not all. Just more than a fortnight ago, Ladysmith Black Mambazo — again, without public sector support — were awarded a Grammy for their latest offering, Raise Up Your Spirits, making it a trilogy of international triumphs for traditional cultural practices and languages of our country, something that simply would not have been possible a decade ago when indigenous languages and traditional musical forms were denigrated and regarded as inferior. Now, they are celebrated internationally and are affirmed as integral components of our national cultural life in which we all share and take pride. Contrary to what some sports people and administrators may say, in the arts, excellence and transformation are not mutually exclusive. Ironically though, this is most obvious in projects where the government has least influence or involvement.
In reference to the successes of U-Carmen eKhayelitsha and Ladysmith Black Mambazo in his Budget speech, Minister Trevor Manuel said: ”It is entirely fitting that the new season of hope of our nation should be proclaimed in this way, in music and theatre.” Indeed. Now if only the not-insignificant budget of the Department of Arts and Culture could make a contribution in this direction too.