Amandla is the word that describes the struggle against the Apartheid, the system that turned South Africa into a racial hell for over 40 years. It is also the name of the documentary that New York-born filmmaker Lee Hirsch made about the music that was part and parcel of the fight, his homage to the sung and unsung heroes of one of the bloodiest and most macabre episodes in recent history.
After a bevy of awards, including Documentary Audience and Freedom of Expression at Sundance, Hirsch’s heart-warming film receives a DVD release. Hirsch’s struggle to make the documentary was something of a saga. A classic case of cinematic perseverance, he took ten years to complete the film, as money was tight. On top of that, the sheer size and responsibility of recording such an important piece of history made his task all the more daunting. Perhaps for that reason as well, the film has a ring of authenticity and commitment that gives it extra emotional strength. The efforts paid off, though, and the result is appropriately glossy. Amandla is visually very attractive and it boasts an impressive sound design.
The starting point of the film is the story of the composer and activist Vuyisile Mini, the first to realise the power of song to face the apartheid government that came to power in 1948. He penned classics like ‘Beware Verwoerd’ in reference to the architect of apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd, warning him that his day of reckoning would come. Amandla also features the many musicians who engaged in the fight including trumpeter Hugh Masekela, singer Miriam Makeba, pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, singer/songwriter Vusi Mahlasela and singer Sibongile Khumalo to name but a few. It also features Member of Parliament Thandi Modise’s harrowing account of her torturing and imprisonment as well as interviews with retired white policemen whose unsettling apathy offer a chilling taster of the psychopathic nature of the regime.
Politics aside, Amandla really is a film about the power of music and how it can truly become a weapon of resistance and transcendence. Watch it and be moved.