City Press talks to local Emmy award-winning filmmaker Rehad Desai

2016-11-06 06:00
Rehad Desai (Photo: City Press)

Johannesburg - Drawing together years of news and archival footage into a single narrative, Rehad Desai’s The Giant is Falling took eight months to edit and recaps the many failings of the ANC and President Jacob Zuma.

With punch and a show-don’t-tell mentality, it weaves together what Desai sees as the ANC’s fall from grace, moving through a timeline that includes Zuma replacing Thabo Mbeki as ANC president, allegations of rape against Zuma and his role in the arms deal, the Marikana massacre, Nkandla, the shambolic 2015 state of the nation address and the Guptas.

“It’s a film that acts as an intervention in the public debate that’s happening in South Africa – where we’re at, and where we’re going,” says Desai.

See a trailer for the documentary film here: 

Some of the footage is as real and raw as ever, such as the shooting of the Marikana mine workers, while in many cases one had almost forgotten how traumatising events were, such as the Economic Freedom Fighters’ MPs being manhandled and forcefully removed from Parliament during Zuma’s state of the nation address.

Though the film doesn’t present anything new, seeing our past political events sewn together by an experienced hand makes for very compelling viewing.

It’s also a decisively male film – a representation of the macho nature of our political landscape. During a question-and-answer session after the premiere, activist Sekoetlane Phamodi stood up to raise a point: “[The film] does not show a single woman speaking about the experience of women during this difficult time...”

Desai seemed taken aback. “I don’t think I know how to answer that at this point. It’s a good point and one that stands. I’ll try harder next time.”

Not to be outdone, Fallist Simamkele Dlakavu stood up next: “You know, I don’t think that answer is sufficient. Miners Shot Down got similar critiques by many black feminists, scholars and activists ... It’s not enough to say you don’t know how to answer this. You need to change the pattern because it’s not the first time [you haven’t represented women fairly].”

See the trailer for the Desai film, Miners Shot Down, which is being referred to:

She walked out without waiting for Desai’s response. I asked him about it at a lunch meeting in Braamfontein on Monday.

“I wasn’t surprised by the questions, considering we were screening in the revolutionary republic of Braamfontein,” he said, laughing. “There are many students and it’s great that they’re noisy and loud, and a bit disruptive. I didn’t feel disrespected. Certainly, on this film, the criticism stands.

I couldn’t accept that on Miners Shot Down. We took a first-person approach to that film, which is about mine workers – there weren’t any female mine workers allowed at the strike at the time of the massacre.”

There were other criticisms. A young student stood up at the back: “This film is just propaganda. You seem to be suggesting that all the problems of black people in this country are caused by the ANC, when actually they are caused by white people.”

Desai voiced his support very strongly for the return of the land to black people, but said that he didn’t think that the enemy was the white population. Two white people cheered him, some black people booed them. The white people booed back. At many of South Africa’s art gatherings lately – be they book fairs or film festivals – racial tension hangs in the air.

Desai is currently busy with a film on #FeesMustFall.

“I’ve been filming this fallout within the student movement. It’s a film that will include Adam Habib and a number of the #FeesMustFall leaders. “It will face criticism, but I’m hoping people are able to use the film to reflect on their own position, politics and behaviour, and the way forward around this. It will deal with all the controversial issues – violence; the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and/or intersex movement; women; machismo...”

Desai says The Giant is Falling has been made for millions of people to see – in and outside of South Africa. Which is perhaps why he had to let go of some of the nuance of events. There is, for instance, a shot of the #ZumaMustFall protest earlier this year. To a foreign audience, it might seem that South Africans were united – when many actually saw it as a white, middle class picnic protest, out of touch with the greater South Africa.

“There was lots of stuff that fell by the wayside – you’ve got to be able to kill your darlings,” he said. “A film is unlike a book or an article where you can go back and read stuff that you’ve missed. You’ve got to keep the audience with you.” The Giant is Falling will be going to the illustrious International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam next and there are DVD releases planned.

Any hope of this showing on the SABC? Miners Shot Down never was, presumably as it showed the ANC in an unfavourable light. “No, no hope at all,” he said, laughing. “I mean, we’ll try. But I don’t see that happening.” Desai is in talks with Ster-Kinekor about releasing the film on circuit, but no dates have been set.

  • This article was amended on November 7 2016. Rehad Desai was misquoted in the first version of this story. The quote "I couldn’t accept that on Miners Shot Down. We took a first-person approach to that film, which is about mine workers – there weren’t any female mine workers in Marikana" has been changed to the correct quote in this version. Desai said that there weren’t any female mine workers allowed at the Marikana strike at the time of the massacre, not that there weren't any women mine workers at Marikana at all. City Press apologises for the error.

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