The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
South Africans were pretty pessimistic about the future of the country before the Covid-19 pandemic, with Chief Executive Officers indicating in a PwC survey that only 14% were very confident about their organisation’s growth prospects in 2020. And then the pandemic hit the world and it appears that the only optimism left is a dim silver lining somewhere in 2021. It is not only in the business world where this is felt; South Africans generally are fed up with the fact that the government used the lockdown to clampdown on smoking and drinking; imposed fines which are seen to be unfair. And with loose canon cabinet ministers the President appears to try solve problems with yet another consultation or Presidential council. In this environment, Anthony Fabian has released his film of Good Hope Stories – a feature-length documentary offering powerful messages of hope by a group of young people who managed to change their fate in one generation. It is a project that Biznews founder Alec Hogg has supported over a number of years and it has, despite several obstacles with funding, seen the light on 16th of June, Youth Day in South Africa. It carries a powerful message that young people’s lives can be changed in one generation. The film is available on the Good Hope website (www.goodhopedoc.com). Film maker Anthony Fabian told Biznews how he believed it could help to bring hope again to South Africa and said the film provided solutions to problems that the rest of the world were facing. – Linda van Tilburg
As you know, the project started four years ago. The first big event was pitching it to FirstRand Bank. I was given an introduction to Sam Moss, Head of Marketing, who showed an interest immediately and could see how important it was to make an intervention in the country’s narrative. This was at the height of Zuma’s corruption scandals, when people were feeling incredibly gloomy about South Africa. And yet, there was a trigger point in August 2016, when all the metros fell to the DA in the local elections, and somehow people felt it was a sign that civil society was alive and well and things could change for the better; that even if the ANC was letting the side down and Zuma was capturing the state, perhaps there was a way out.
I think that helped the mood in the room when I was pitching the project to the Board of FirstRand, Dragon’s Den style, and they then agreed to provide the initial funding for research and development. With that funding, we not only identified who our contributors might be, but also shot fifteen interviews and created a ten-minute pilot. My initial idea was this should be an eight-part series – it was too big a story for a one-off. I’d broken it down into different episodes – politics, economics, education, civil society, land etc. But after we shot and edited the pilot, it was virtually impossible to get backing for this series. So, I then thought, OK, why not start with a feature film and see if that then sparks an interest in commissioning more. We did a crowdfunding campaign that allowed us to complete the filming. And then for post-production, I had a “white knight” rescue from our executive producer, David Stainton, who had been the Head of Disney Animation and just loved the sound of the project. He had never been to South Africa but felt inspired by the story we were trying to tell and agreed to invest, which allowed it to be completed.
I thought we had a finished the film in June last year; we had a wonderful screening at South Africa House in July 2019. But I realised after that screening that I hadn’t quite cracked it and there were things that needed to be done to improve the film. I went back to the drawing board and reopened the edit. We took out some repetition, added some breathing space – because it is very densely packed with information. We also subdivided it into chapters using Mandela’s quotes as headings for each topic, and that helped focus the viewer as well as gave people a moment to catch their breaths. I also added a prologue, which is a very brief explanation from me about why I wanted to make this film and clarified that this is just what I see in South Africa: there is no ‘absolute truth’. This is the South Africa that I have got to know over the past twenty years, what inspires me and gives me hope. And the main reason I am inspired and hopeful, is because I focus on the younger generation of South Africans who are ultimately going to take the country forward. These are the people who are going to lead, and in whose hands the country’s future lies. Our contributors are an extraordinary cohort of dynamic, articulate and impressive young people. I also added ten backstories or histories for some of the characters. That was important because I think it’s essential that viewers understand that a lot of our contributors have come from very humble beginnings and in just one generation, they have achieved extraordinary things.
There’s quite an emphasis on education, I saw.
Yes absolutely. The key problem that everything boils down to in South Africa – also in the rest of the world – is inequality. We’re seeing that with the current marches and debates around Black Lives Matter and racial injustice. And within the South African context, that inequality has three major planks: The first is educational because the apartheid system did not give people a level playing field. Unfortunately, after apartheid, education was not one of the first things to be addressed, because there were so many other priorities – housing, sanitation, unemployment, health. There was also the AIDS crisis. But the reason there is such a focus on education in the film is that it is the alpha and the omega of solving all problems. You certainly solve employment problems and you solve so many other problems in society by improving the education system. I believe that Cyril Ramaphosa understands that and is making inroads towards improving it. But as the film explains, fixing education is a long-term project and you can’t rely on government alone to solve everything. Everyone in society needs to engage. And that’s one of the biggest messages of the film, which is that people need to be self-activists. They need to take charge and be part of the solution. That is one of the things we hope to inspire in people through this film.
Do you still plan to go to the Toronto Film Festival or is that not happening now?
Well it’s interesting what’s happened to the film since we finished it last December. We tried to get it into a number of festivals and were welcomed by a film festival in Vancouver, a South African Film Festival; in fact, they had inaugurated their festival with “Skin” ten years ago and now wanted to show “Good Hope” as a premiere. But it seems this film is not a natural fit for most festivals. It’s a very unusual documentary in that it doesn’t follow the story of a single individual but that of a whole country, which is not easy to do.
We therefore decided to take a different route in terms of its release. After all, very few people get to see films at festivals, and also because of the Covid-19 crisis, it’s impossible to show films in cinemas right now. So we are making the film available to stream online on a dedicated website, www.goodhopedoc.com, and that is a movement that is growing within the film industry – direct distribution – because it is more democratic.
We’ve set the price very low (R29 to rent for 24 hours, or R79 to buy) so that it is accessible to almost anybody. And our task now is to get the word out so that people actually know about the film and seek it out. I believe our timing is extraordinary because of what’s happening in the world right now with the appalling George Floyd murder and the anger and discussions that has generated right across the globe. The film has become very topical.
For which audience is this aimed at, a South African audience, an international audience or both?
My strategy is to start with South Africa because I think that South Africans are the most engaged with the subject matter. I’m also hoping to reach the South African diaspora all over the world. Beyond that, I know that this film will have resonance for people wherever they come from because the issues we are dealing with are universal: the rise of populism, political corruption, xenophobia gender imbalances, problems within the education system, problems of unemployment. South Africa in a way is providing solutions to these problems which could also apply in the rest of the world.
So who are the main characters that feature in this film? I saw Mmusi Maimane (former DA leader) is one of them.
Mmusi Maimane was one of my first interviewees. Whatever you might think about his politics, he’s an incredibly impressive human being and his heart is absolutely in the right place. My sense about Mmusi is that he’s one of the rare politicians who actually cares more about other people than promoting himself and we did extensive filming with him, but by the time the film was nearing completion, I felt it important that it not feel like “current affairs” because that would date it very quickly. And so it became much more thematic and about bigger issues. That is why even interviews that we did in 2016 have made it into the film, because the topics remain relevant and applicable to South Africa today.
Some of the other people we interview include Tlaleng Mofokeng, who is a sexual health expert and a Commissioner for Gender Equality. She is an absolutely spectacular person, with a great media profile – she does everything from write books about sexual pleasure to dealing with the most horrific aspects of gender violence and domestic abuse. An exceptional all-rounder with the most beautiful soul and a fabulous Good Hope representative. We have Mike van Graan, who’s a wonderful playwright. He is in a way one of the older voices in the film but also very wise and I think an example of that you don’t have to be young to have the right attitude.
We also feature Judy Sikuza who is the CEO of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation and a prime example of a Good Hope personality, enabling students from across the African continent to complete higher education by providing scholarships. Adriaan Basson, editor of News24 – again, he was one of my early interviews and a brilliant example of what one might call a ‘reconstructed Afrikaner’ – wanting to make a positive contribution to his country by uncovering the truth. Janet Jobson is the deputy CEO of the DG Murray Trust, an incredible civil society organization helping people at the beginning of their lives – early learning and childhood development – as well as later, after matric, when they need to find jobs. And trying to create a more cohesive society. We also have Lerato Tshabalala, a fabulous author and broadcaster who wrote a best-selling book called ‘The Way I See It’ which talks about biases and prejudices within South African society. She’s an exceptional speaker and turned out to be a real star of the movie. We have Zamo Mbele, a clinical psychologist. I wanted him to explore the reasons behind the pessimism that seems so entrenched in South African society. Ndoni Mcunu is an environmental scientist, and she talks about the role of women in science which is important in terms of gender balance. Amongst many others – thirty-six exceptional contributors, offering solutions and inspiring hope.
Cyril Ramaphosa: The Audio Biography
Listen to the story of Cyril Ramaphosa's rise to presidential power, narrated by our very own Alec Hogg.