rFilmed in the heart of Soweto.
Mapanlsula is the first filtn on international release to have been made in South Africa itself. and which deals with the black experience under apartheid. Although it follows ( 'ry I'l't'Ul/UHI and A World Apart. becoming the third feature within the past twelv e months to ostensibly focus on the issues at hand. with its first hand examination of the contemporary conﬂicts within the township communities. it offers a greater understanding of South A frica's majority population. a section of society denied a voice by the stringent media legislation now operating.
The title .llapantsu/a is taken from a South African term for wideboy. and the film follows cynical petty thief Panic (Thomas Mogotlane ) as his life of wallet snatching and easygoing hedonistn is ev entually impinged upon by the realities of the political situation. llis transformation towards greater awareness begins when he is thrown into prison with a group of activists who have little bttt contempt for his carefree tnanner. Scripted by Mogotlane and first time director ()liver Schmitz. the way in which it constructs a stance ofopposition to the current regime from an ev eryday slice of life has won a welcome from the ANC and the .-\nti-Apartheid Movement but led to a total ban froin cinema screens in South Africa.
(iiven the film's finally outlawed status it seems remarkable that it ever got made at all. Director ( )liv er Schmitz. explained how its financing arose from the country‘s fay ourablc tax laws; ‘Within the past few years a few smart businessmen discov cred that you could use movies as a tax shelter. so that you were getting 25—30 independent features a year made in South Africa. What happened pretty quickly though is that (‘annon moved in and turned the situation into a monopoly. They’re making action pictures like .-lmc'ri(‘an Ninja .3. but they 'v e also formed an unofficial association with the State Department who now seem to have script approval on any proposed projects. We managed to set up .llapantsu/a before ('annon arrived. and we were lucky enough to find the money within South Africa. We did actually show the backers part of the script. but they weren't really interested. because the whole thing was just about laundering their taxes.'
Former editor Schmitz and actor writer Mogotlane had been longtime friends. and their screenplay catne out of a desire to look at what it might mean to be a gangster in the black community. ‘A lot of the youth turn to crime and feel quite justified in doing so.‘ the IS year-old white director points out. ‘because they are underprivileged. and because the law does not seem to be there to protect them. We
I wanted to see how such a character
could become politicised. and the
movie was made so it could get
‘ shown to the Panics in South Africa
' and hopefully make something of an impact on them.’
12 The List 13 - 26 January
The first film to have been made in South Africa. by black South Africans. about conditions there. Maprmtsula has been banned by the Botha government. Director Olier Schmitz talks to Trevor Johnston.
Althouin many of the cast are drawn from the black theatre scene which has produced notable plays like li/io/ia that have toured widely abroad. many of the actors come from a workaday existence in segregated South African television. ‘l-‘or years Thomas has been getting ty pecast as a criminal. which seems a negative and gene ralising comment that equates the state of being black in South Africa with law-breaking and corruption. .\lanyofthe others are quite cynical about their work because it's become just that. a job for them. Once we talked to people and they read the script there was quite a lot ofexcitement to get my olvcd. and the project developed because they brought a lot oftheir own experiences to the roles they were playing. A film like this you know . is not just a technical exercise. it's about committment and identification with the characters.‘
A major source of interest for the foreign viewer lies in getting to see w hat it must really be like to live in the townships. and also being offered a chance to view the workings oforganised dissent. Key elements in the film trace how Panic‘s girlfirend l’at (Tembe Mtshali ) goes to the Trades Linion seeking help after unfair dismissal from her job as a maid. and how the contact that Panic himself has with the political prisoners he meets in confinement changes his awareness of his countrymen‘s plight away from indifference towards involvement. Yet this picture of authenticity was
only arrived at after a good deal of
tension for the film-makers shooting
l openly on the streets of Soweto:
'()bviously we were quite wary about letting too much out about the
project. but there are points when it becomes no secret anymore. We kept the uprising scene until the end. but when you've got 15“ extras running around staging a riot word is going to spread. The authorities never showed up though. and if they did know about us they were very subtle in not letting us know about their knowledge.‘
‘The police stations you see in the film are either sets or basements. and one of them is the basement of what's probably the most luxurious shopping centre in South Africa. right in the centre of white Johannesburg. We built the jail sets ourselves. and the vehicles we tised were actually old police l.and Rovers that you can get hold ofon the black market. If you look closely you’ll notice that the uniforms don‘t have any badges. but we had to do that to avoid all sorts of legal difficulties.‘
At the time w hen Schmitz was speaking (visiting last year's Edinburgh international Film Festival ). the film was in the process of being submitted to the South African censor. but he remained hopeful that it would be passed. ‘lt's hard to tell what the reaction will be. but I could see them not reacting at all on account of the main character being a fictitious person. and the sort oferitninal he is too. Hopefully that makes it different from (‘ry l-rceilom because of Biko. or even .‘l World Apart with the Slovo family. because they are so sensitive to the representation of those who still figure prominently in the process of struggle in South Africa. I mean we’ve tirade the film the way we have because we want it to be shown to South African audiences. Maybe there are compromises. I don‘t
know. but it‘s a bit like making
movies in say Poland. where you have to find a way of getting the story across without being so overt that you only get yourself into trouble.’
l'nfortunately. since then Schmitz‘s hopes have been dashed by the news that the Directorate of Publications in Johannesburg have seen fit to ban the film from screening in any cinema. Although no restrictions have been placed on the video release. with the vast majority of VCR machinesnestling comfortably in the homes of affluent whites. it seems that the makers‘s wishes for the film to get through to the large black cinemagoing
. population to a very great extent
have been denied. liven so. the favourable reception the film has received at various festivals around the world ((‘annes. lidinburgh. New York) has played its part in the recent ANC revision of attitudes towards the cultural boycott and the movement towards a more selective attitude which welcomes works contributing towards the struggle. .\lcanwhile. as the State of limergcncy rolls on remorselessly.
: and the draconian media clampdown
continues to hamper proper reporting of the situation in South Africa. the letter frotn the censor board giving their reasons for banning .llapanlsulu could hardly pay greater tribute to the courage and power of the work which Schmitz and his mixed cohorts have produced:
Reasons for restricted screenings:
l . The large screen amplifies the dangerous political effects the film could have on probable viewers in this country.
2. Althouin one-sidedness is not
, sufficient to find a film undesirable.
the blatancy with which this line is followed in .\la;mntsula. is an aggravating factor. No reason is even suggested for the inevitable increase in rents. The result is a biased representation of the situation.
3. The propagandistic tendency of the film is not suitable to viewers in a
country where emergency regulations have to be enforced.
, «l. The film has the power to incite
view ers to act violently.
5. The committee took note of the involvement of the trade union in addressing the problem.
(i. Friction between blacks and whites (employer and employee) can result if this film is approved for general release.
7. The provocation which the police had to bear is conveniently set aside. But their action against riotous mobs is portrayed in a manner which will generate further hatred against the security forces. ('onfrontation with the police is encouraged.
; S. The effective closing scene . communicates a clear message to the
viewer: refuse co-operation with the authorities and side with the rebellious elements in black society. Thereby the state becomes powerless to act against subversive organistaions.
.llupaltlsulu opens at lllt’ Film/rouse. lit/inlntrg/i. on 2.3 January. Full details in the Film section where i! is also reviewed lnfull.