A New Country
The early 90s ushered in a new dawn in South Africa, a large-scale shift in consciousness in people’s minds and hearts. Advanced mainly by Mandela’s release from prison, this new dawn pushed South African’s to think more about their self-determination and taking control of their lives, the possibilities were endless. Behind the scenes, there were also efforts geared towards unifying us as a country, films like Taxi to Soweto were commissioned by the outgoing apartheid government as an effort to denounce their ‘Swaart Gevaar’ policies, the first black advertising agency, Heardbuoys was started and Black South Africans started seeing more positive images of themselves on televisions. These positive images of happy South Africans had to compete with images of mutilated or dead bodies in our newsreel footage. Boipatong, Thokoza and Natalspruit, KwaMashu, and many other townships across the country, saw rising political violence in the lead-up to the elections, this was all happening alongside the country’s negotiations and later, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
South African’s were determined to fix the ills of its country and cover its wounds, everybody got involved, we all became stakeholders of the dream that was the New South Africa. Youth cultures erupted and self-expression was the order of the day, Kwaito became the soundtrack to our lives, there were messages of peace embedded in every fiber of our society. We knew the kind of image we wanted to be as South African’s and were working tirelessly together to realise this image.
The proposed documentary tells the story of the personalities involved in the making of the silent film Siliva the Zulu, the first feature-length film with an all-black cast to be made in Africa,. In 1927, adventurer-explorer Attilio Gatti set sail from Italy to Africa. With him went cameramen Vitrotti and Franzeri, anthropologist Lidio Cipriani, and some silent film actors. He prepared a script involving the kidnapping of a white woman by Zulus, but when it was shown to the white authorities, they were horrified, and refused him permission to film. Gatti was about to leave, when cameraman Vitrotti, struck by the physical beauty of the Zulu people, persuaded him to draw up a script that featured just Zulus. Gatti sent his white actors home, and quickly drafted a melodrama of love, jealousy, betrayal and witchcraft.
After spending some months with the Zulu people, Gatti and crew returned to Italy to edit the film. It was advertised with sensational publicity, but it had very few screenings. This may be partly explained by the fact that Gatti's production company ran into financial difficulties, but also it had the extreme bad luck to appear just when sound films were bursting onto the world's screens. The film disappeared, except for a few prints, cut down from their 90 minutes to 30 for educational purposes, but even then, not very successfully. There is a record of the film being shown once in Johannesburg in 1929. But it was never shown to the community where it was made. The documentary will take Cipriani's superb photos to the community where the film was made, and showing them to people in order to track down descendants of those who took part in the film, recording their reaction to this process. What legacy did the film leave among the people who helped create it? There will be screenings of the film to that community; audiences will be invited to critique it, both as a record of Zulu life, and as an artefact of a type that has shaped the image of the Zulu to the outside world. This process of discovery and evaluation will be both a restoration of a lost history, and an acquaintance with dead ancestors - so important to a culture that venerates and honors its ancestors.