The controversial South African short film, Paul van Zyl’s Elegy for a Revolution, has been officially selected for the Hollywood Black Film Festival (HBFF), which takes place from 25 to 28 October in Los Angeles. It screens on 27 October at 12pm.
Produced by Stacy Owens Eckstein of Market Street Productions, Elegy for a Revolution has the tagline, “Betrayal knows no limits’.
The film uses the experience of underground political action in South Africa during the early 1980s. It examines the motives of a group of young white “liberals’ who turn to violence to oppose the repressive Nationalist Government. At the core of this account is one question: Can violence be justified as a way of opposing tyranny?
Says Van Zyl: “I hope to educate and entertain the audience with questions like these, and explore the divide between left and right, black and white, loyalty and treachery.’
Elegy for a Revolution stars Brian Ames, Martin Copping, Steve Humphreys, Michael Enright, Anthony Holiday and Marcia Batisse.
Van Zyl explains the background to the film: “In South Africa in July 1964, during a wave of raids across the country, the apartheid security police picked up several members of the African Resistance Movement (ARM), an organisation of liberals-become-radicals who had sabotaged pylons and other infrastructural targets in an effort to send a message to the apartheid Government, post-Sharpeville, that serious and principled white resistance was alive in South Africa.
“While growing up in South Africa, I developed a sense of outrage at apartheid, which propelled me to become involved in student and national politics. Forty eight years ago in South Africa, a small group of us, mainly white, former students, dreamed that we could help topple the apartheid regime by blasting down electric pylons and radio masts. Soon after being taken into detention, one of the members began to talk. Exhaustive and gratuitously detailed testimonies, first in detention and then as a state witness, were used to convict close friends and associates.’
Part memoir, part political thriller, and also a post-meditation on betrayal and forgiveness, this short film, describes the mixture of commitment and naivety, seriousness and glibness, which gave rise to the ARM organisation. The story entails the “cloaks of immunity’ which the group believed were granted by their whiteness. The result was their inability to believe that their band of saboteurs could be punished with the full weight of apartheid’s laws, and a fatal underestimation of the reach and skill of the Security Branch. As such, we are led to the tragic final act of the ARM story which consolidated white opinion, led directly to the demise of the Liberal Party, and strengthened the hand of the white government for more than a decade. Many of its members served jail terms or went into permanent exile. This story of the “politics of failure and betrayal’ are the films themes.
The ARM movement ranks as the most pathetic and ineffectual “resistance movement’ in the history of “revolutionary movements. The wretched memory of their humiliating and total failure, and their record of stabbing each other in the back, sits heavily on the hunched shoulders of its perpetrators, most of who still live in the countries to which they scuttled. The ARM didn’t do much to end apartheid. Instead, apartheid was defeated by those forces of established authority that wished to see a stable and prosperous nation.