The Rainbow Collective Film Festival, hosted by the University of Leeds, last week screened humanitarian films produced by the graduates of the Northern Film School in Leeds, Richard York and Hannan Majid. The two short films Bafana and Amazulu: The Children of Heaven, are extremely inspiring documentaries giving an insight into the life in South Africa through the eyes of young black children.
In the first twenty-minute film, Bafana, York and Majid sensitively delve into the everyday lives of street kids in Cape Town, filming from the ground rather than seeking to dramatise. The children speak openly and confidently about their darker days on the streets, before South African Gerald Jacobs provided them with a shelter where they are given basic schooling and the freedom to play and dance. The young boys speak of how the streets called to them with its community atmosphere, but danger was evidently an intrinsic part of their lives as the children recount tales of smoking glue, selling their bodies, robbing and mugging.
Yet Bafana is filled with hope, thanks to the shelter that was able to transform these children’s lives. It became a maternal figure for them, a place of guidance where they could learn the ‘value of simplicity to achieve great things’. The teachers featured in the film touchingly speak of how they see the children at the shelter as their own, how their aims are to build up their self-confidence and urge them to have aspirations in the future. Bafana is a beautiful, inspiring short film that conveys one vital idea: that no child is lost if a moral pathway is given to them.
The second, hour long documentary, AmaZulu: The Children of Heaven, focuses on an awe-inspiring school for black South Africans in the city of Durban. It follows their day from 6:30am where the children join together in soulful song. Their head teacher, Mr Mtshali, playfully quotes Shakespeare with a huge smile; ‘If music be the food of love, play on’. He is very aware of how music is within these children, with their harmonising voices and impressive natural gift for dancing. A moving scene of the children marching to their final year exam, all singing passionately in a line, with their calculators and rulers in hand, gives an insight into just how motivational music is to the children.
York and Majid once again step down from the potential exploitative role of the prying journalist, shifting the perspective to seven students who clearly have an understanding of trust with the filmmakers. Living in the most basic of shacks, these children have witnessed first-hand the hardship of growing up in poverty. Yet they each have such courage, such hope, selfless love and wisdom that a lot can be learned from them. One girl states ‘you must read as if it’s the end of the world’, and another student explains how he is master of his own destiny thanks to the strong sense of direction the school gives him. With stories of ruptured families torn apart by alcoholism, the strict but kind-hearted Mr Mtshali has noticeably become a father figure and strong role model for the children interviewed. Touching scenes of each student hugging him on their last day epitomises the optimism of AmaZulu; that each individual has the power to positively impact the lives of others. And in the words of Victor Hugo, ‘He who opens a school door, closes a prison.’