Film maker Tony Palmer has made this terrific film about the playwright Athol Fugard. Interviews with Fugard are spliced with extracts from his plays and archive footage of the events unfolding in South Africa at the time of their writing or performance. The use of this archive footage makes for some poignant moments. Steve Biko, for example, is shown talking about injustice, then we see photographs of his dead body after the Apartheid regime had finished with him.
Apartheid Prime Ministers, Vorwoerd and Vorster are included addressing crowds and justifying the cruel system they enjoyed. It is important to be reminded that their political philosophy was once so powerful, and was supported by many in Britain. Thatcher, while British Prime Minister, resisted economic sanctions against South Africa and viewed the ANC as a terrorist organisation. The UK was a big investor in the country.
Throughout these years, Athol Fugard wrote powerful plays that highlighted the injustices and the effect the regime had on blacks and whites alike. Excerpts from his most famous plays are shown, including: ‘Master Harold and the Boys’; ‘The Island’; ‘Sizwe Banzi is Dead’ and ‘Come to Mecca’. The excerpt from ‘Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act’ is particularly powerful.
The film reminds us that here were actors rehearsing and performing plays with the knowledge that they could be raided by the police at any time. Actors could ‘disappear’ for long stretches. Life could be very uncomfortable for white liberals and intolerable for blacks.
Various artists, actors, writers and directors explain how Athol Fugard has influenced them. Most important of all, though, we have Athol Fugard talking about the influences on his life and the key moments; he has lived through the dreadful Apartheid regime, through the dawn of a new South Africa and into a period of disillusionment with the current rulers.
‘Falls the Shadow…’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?