Los Angeles, Ca, 18th July, 2012 – Paul Van Zyl and Market Street Productions (MSP) in Los Angeles, California, have won a prestigious Award of Merit from the www.bestshorts.net competition. The award was given to this exciting South African drama, “Elegy for a Revolutionary”, which is the true story of when a small group of white South African students, dreamed that they could help topple the apartheid regime by blasting down electric pylons and radio masts. They called themselves the African Resistance Movement. The short has also won the title as Best Short Promoting Human Rights in the AIFF competition. Festival screening will take place in Las Vegas, Monrovia, California, Tampa, Florida and at the Isle of Wight Film Festival in the UK.
“It’s a unique South African story”, says director Paul Van Zyl, “about two friends who get arrested for political subversion and who sacrifice their friendship and ideals as they struggle towards a non-racial society and democracy in South Africa. It’s loosely inspired by the novel Elegy for a Revolutionary by C.J. Driver, which was banned in South Africa for many years, and is based on a true story. It’s a personal journey through the war of apartheid and centers on the personalities of two friends who are both traitors and paradoxically heroes.”
Elegy joins several other genres in this compromised, messy and contested narrative. It is dealt with in several political memoirs and “jail diaries” from Hugh Lewin’s Bandiet (1974, 2002), Albie Sachs’ Stephanie on Trial (1968), as well as Eddie Daniels’ There and Back (1998), Nadine Gordimer’s The Late Bourgeois World (1966) and Athol Fugard’s radical experiment in theatre, Orestes (1978). John Harris’s almost unreadable moving letters to his wife from death row have been threaded into the Guardian correspondent David Beresford’s Truth is a Strange Fruit (2010). And in a 2002 edition of Granta magazine, Adrian Leftwich, the secretary of the group, himself offered a confession which took him 15 years to write – “as much an essay in the personal politics of fear as it is in the politics of failure and betrayal”– and which was intriguingly judged variously as sincere and powerful, inadequate and evasive, by the different individuals affected by his actions. Following testimony, and as part of the deal they struck with the apartheid prosecutors, many members were forced into permanent exile.
The ARM has often been written off as a group of misguided amateurs, or liberals out of their depth. But in fact the organization predated the formation of Umkhonto We Sizwe (the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), and in the thirty-six months of its active existence did as much economic damage to state infrastructure as MK managed during the same period. As such, we are led to the tragic final act of the ARM story, in which John Harris planted a bomb on the platform of Park Station, Johannesburg. Despite his telephoned warnings to the police and newspapers, the concourse was not cleared and a suitcase stuffed with TNT and petrol exploded at 4:33 pm on 24 July 1964, at the height of rush hour. A grandmother was killed, her twelve-year-old granddaughter terribly burned, and twenty-two others seriously injured. It was a disaster on every level: “it consolidated white opinion, led directly to the demise of the Liberal Party, and strengthened the hand of the white government for more than a decade. Harris was killed in Pretoria Central on April fool’s Day 1965, the only white “political” hanged by the state, and went to the gallows singing “We Shall Overcome. In 2012, years after these betrayals, accusations of intrigue and treachery are still being bandied about.
“The South African film voice has always been closely linked to the society”, says Van Zyl, “which has been influenced by politics and struggle. And as a South African, I’ve always felt that it is important to look at history, to look back to where we came from, in order to know where we are going, particularly with Nelson Mandela’s vision of the new South Africa. When the plan of apartheid began to fall to pieces, it seemed I had entered into world where conquest had to be undone and I became interested in stories which provided a unique biography for South Africa. It makes great spiritual cinema. I plan to make a feature which will lift the veil on this remarkable breed of white South Africans who operated during the frenzied mayhem of apartheid. Little is known of their dilemma and this story will bring to public view the tremendous debt of their contribution during a country’s fragile transition from suppression to freedom. Audiences will discover questions of what they did and how they handled themselves. Oh, and, by the way, Elegy does not condone terrorism but rather questions whether violence can be justified as a way of opposing tyranny.”
The Best Shorts Competition recognizes film professionals who demonstrate exceptional achievement in craft and creativity, and those who produce standout entertainment or contribute to profound social change. Entries are judged by highly qualified professionals in the film industry. Information about the Best Shorts Competition and a list of recent winners can be found at www.bestshorts.net.
In winning Best Shorts laurels, MSP joins the rank of other high profile winners of this internationally respected award. Thomas Baker, PhD, who chairs the Best Shorts Competition, had this to say about the latest winners, “Best Shorts laurels are not easy to win. Entries are received from around the world. The Best Shorts Competition helps set the standard for craft and creativity. The judges were pleased with the exceptionally high quality of entries. The goals of the Best Shorts Competition are to help winners achieve the recognition they deserve”.