Amandla! A Revolution In Four-Part Harmony
directed by Lee Hirsch
International Critics' Prize
by Richard Kuipers
the audience that responded with rousing cheers at the screening of «Amandla!
A Revolution In Four–Part Harmony», the FIPRESCI jury in Sydney
found Lee Hirsch’s documentary simply irresistible. Featured early
in the festival programme, «Amandla!» held on to win our award
from a very strong field of eligible documentaries. Well travelled and
frequently honoured on the festival circuit already, Lee Hirsch’s
beautiful account of the role played by music in the struggle against
apartheid in South Africa can now include the FIPRESCI stamp of approval
on its impressive list of awards.
The subject of apartheid has been treated extensively in
documentary but rarely with the spirit, energy and mastery of sound and
image in Amandla! Lee Hirsch spent 9 years making «Amandla!»
and has created a revelation in both subject and form. The songs that
inspired South African blacks to struggle against apartheid for over 40
years are largely unrecognised outside their immediate communities and
most have not been professionally recorded. Hirsch’s tribute to
the writers and performers has immortalised these songs and gives audiences
a stirring reminder of music’s power to effect political change.
Spirited renditions of songs including key anthems «Beware Verwoerd»
by Vuyisile Mini, Strike Vilakazi’s «Meadowlands» and
the communal singalong Toyi-Toyi Chant are beautifully mixed with interviews
and rarely-seen archival footage to deliver a fresh and exciting analysis
of one of the 20th century’s most shameful examples of sustained
human rights abuses.
years in the making, «Amandla!» represents a major triumph
for Hirsch who visited the republic in the early 90’s as an idealistic
young white supporter of the anti-apartheid movement and remained in Johannesburg
for five years while preparing this film. His assemblage of footage from
Sharpeville in 1960, the Soweto massacre of 1976 and the capitulation
of white rule in 1994 is given new life by the parallel stories of how
«freedom music» was created and used to resist an inhuman
regime. Required viewing no matter how many documentaries you have seen
on this topic, «Amandla!» is a superbly presented history
lesson that blends music and politics into an uplifting whole and also
looks forward to the challenges facing post-apartheid South Africa. Sifiso
Ntuli, one of the activists profiled in the film, points at the problems
of unemployment, poverty and the effects of AIDS that remain devastating
long after the transition of power. To overcome these massive obstacles,
South Africans of all colours will once again require the spirit of Amandla
– a Xhosa word that translates roughly as «power to the people"
– to play its part.