Redefining the griot : a history of South African documentary film

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The South African film industry, like the rest of the country, has gone through a very difficult and trying time over the last century and has been faced with enormous challenges since 1994. South Africa is still in a process of transition and the turbulent era of Apartheid is still vivid in our memories and our collective national identity. What is especially exciting about studying the history of the South African film industry, is that it was through film, television and the media at large, that we witnessed the evolution of this history. On a microscopic scale, the history of the film industry, is that of the country, and many of the effects of Apartheid that are being experienced in South Africa today, are likewise being experienced by the film industry. Thus by seeking to understand the historical relationship between film and politics in South Africa, we are enabled to comprehend and contextualise the circumstances that have determined film's socio-political, economic and cultural place in society today. It was with this intention that I began to investigate the documentary film industry in South Africa. My particular interest was in the development of an independent, progressive documentary film movement that tentatively originated in the late nineteen fifties and established itself in the late seventies and eighties as a major force in the resistance movement. Concentrating on organisations such as the International Defense and Aid Fund to Southern Africa (IDAF), Video News Services/ Afravision, and the Community Video Education Trust (CVET), as well as many individual anti-Apartheid filmmakers, the focus of this paper and documentary film, Redefining the Griot, is thus limited to an analysis of the history of socio-political documentary filmmaking in South Africa, in particular, the anti-Apartheid film and video movement that emerged both in reaction to the ideologically-specific and restrictive State control of media, film and eventually television, and as a cultural weapon in the liberation struggle. Understanding this history enables valuable insight into the nature of the documentary film and video-making industry today - one that is still considered emergent in terms of having a homogeneous national identity.

Includes bibliography and filmography.