"Feature films drown out documentaries in South Africa"

June 2010 -

The Beeldvoorbeeld festival is devoting a great deal of attention to South Africa. Three films by François Verster are being presented. Verster has been the recipient of a number of awards, including an Emmy for A Lion's Trail.


Image form uit 'A Lion's Trail'

The film relates the history of the world renowned song The Lion Sleeps Tonight made famous by the American doo-wop group The Tokens. The original 1939 song was composed by Zulu musician Solomon Linda. He never received a penny in royalties because a slick song smith from Nashville, George Weiss, added two lines of text and was then able to claim authorship of the song. Weiss earned a bundle on the song and is still receiving royalties from it. Solomon Linda’s daughter lived in poverty and died of aids.

In the film, Verster depicts a South African journalist who filed a suit on Linda’s behalf. During the Apartheid regime, blacks could not hold copyrights; so the suit never had a chance in court. In spite of all this misfortune, the film is sometimes quite cheerful because of the powerful music.

Verster is not particularly optimistic about the climate for documentaries in his country. "After Apartheid ended, a great deal of attention was focussed on South Africa, but that interest has been waning for years. Soccer briefly revitalized some interest, but that will fade quickly, as well. There are fewer financing options for documentaries. Moreover, the feature film industry in South Africa is becoming quite a vital force."

The Soccer World Cup did not provide movie makers any incentives for a new film. "I did discuss this with a Swiss colleague, who expressed considerable surprise at the time regarding what governments permit the FIFA - the World Soccer Federation - to get by with; but nothing came of it."

In addition to A Lion's Trail, the Beeldvoorbeeld is also presenting When the War is Over and The Mothers' House. This last film is Verster’s favourite. The film follows an adolescent in a township during the post-Apartheid era. The Mothers' House was filmed in 2005. Verster: "That story shows how tough things still are in townships. The situation has not improved since then."

Beeldvoorbeeld is a film festival that cuts across the boundaries of visual anthropology, documentary film and politics. The festival will be held from 2 - 5 June 2010 in the Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden and in the Tropentheater in Amsterdam.