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Stacy Buchanan
Film: Dear Mandela at The Brattle Theatre
By Stacy Buchanan

August 12, 2012

Zama, Mazwi, and Mnikelo, have becomes the faces of political change in
South Africa as leaders of the movement Abahlali baseMjondolo.
(photo: dearmandela.com.)

Nelson Mandela was faced with many obstacles as president of South Africa in the early ‘90s. Top of the list was providing an improved quality of life for a nation recovering from apartheid–the same system of racial segregation that kept him jailed for over 20 years. The plan was to ensure fair housing for the impoverished shanty town communities many called home, a plan that proved far too ambitious for a country so deeply segregated and on the mend.

It’s 20 years later, and populations have doubled. And so have doubts about and trust in the government’s ability to deliver on its promise. Matters got worse when a nationwide eviction began. And in a country with a strong history of violence, it should come as no surprise that these efforts involved shack demolitions, guns, prison detentions without trial, and even assassination.

Filmmaker Dara Kell grew up in South Africa during the height of the tension, and in 2007 discovered and become intrigued with Abahlali baseMjondolo (Residents of the Shacks), a social and democratic movement founded to find alternative ways to fix their growing inherited problem. After Kell and filmmaking partner Christopher Nizza met with the movement’s young leaders and fell in love with their courage, idealism reminiscent of Mandela’s, and determination to take their own government to the highest courts in the name of democracy, Kell and Nizza set out to tell their story.

Dear Mandela is not a documentary about activism, but instead an exposé on the pressures of historical burdens put upon the self-taught, politically savvy, post-apartheid generation. It offers a new perspective on the role that young people can play in political change and is a fascinating portrait of South Africa’s coming of age.

The film had its world premiere at the Durban International Film Festival in South Africa, where it was awarded the Best South African Documentary prize. Since then, it has screened in cities around the world, including New York, London, Prague, Seoul, and Vienna, and now Boston will get its chance to watch the documentary and participate in a discussion with the filmmakers. Dear Mandela will be screening at the Brattle Theatre, with Dara Kell and Christopher Nizza in attendance, on Monday, August 13th. Visit brattlefilm.org for more information.


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