Shot over nine days at Afrikaans nationalist camp, Kommandokorps, Fatherland
follows the ideological progression of young men who are taught to recognise
and defend themselves against the perceived enemy – “blacks’.
Director Tarryn Lee Crossman spent nine years producing and directing for
television, but when an article highlighting racial indoctrination in a South African
youth camp found its way onto her newsfeed, she knew she had found the
gripping story she’d been looking for.
Crossman left New York, where she had been working, to make a documentary
which would become a sounding board for taboos murmuring under the surface
of a post-apartheid nation.
Cyril Ramaphosa, deputy president of the ANC, caused a stir in the media when
it surfaced that he had used the word “boer’ while campaigning for the 2014
elections in South Africa. The offensive term strikes a nerve among South
Africans and particularly members of the Afrikaans community, who have a deep
sense of cultural pride.
Camp leader Colonel Franz Jooste, who served with the South African defence
force, may be seen as an ignorant, hateful racist when he begins to describe
“the enemy’ to a group of teenage boys, who have come to the nine-day camp
near Thabazimbi to learn self-defence and play paintball. His comments are
cuttingly uncomfortable, describing “blacks’ as thick-lipped, flat-nosed barbaric
beings of lower intelligence.
Shocking and evocative as it may be, the film reveals that underneath this
derogatory ranting is the vulnerable voice of a passionately patriotic community,
plagued by the aftermath of a country fragmented.
Fatherland presents 70 minutes of conflicting emotions, leaving the viewer torn
between sympathy for the men who feel helpless and emasculated against the
violent and disparaging crimes against them, while frustrated and angry at the
imprint they are leaving on a generation, who, while desperately seeking the
approval of their fathers, are forming their own views in a new and integrated
“Afrikaans people believe this is their “Vaderland’, so Fatherland was a play on
that and this idea of father and son that we explore in the film. Every child
wants their father to be proud of them, but how far do you go to achieve that
and when do you start becoming an adult with your own moral values of what is
right and wrong for you,’ says Crossman who took a huge risk when she shot
the film prior to obtaining signed release forms.
She continues: “When I approached the families after shooting, they weren’t
very receptive until we were able to meet in person, where I could show them
that I was open and wanted to tell the story from a neutral perspective.’
After promising to film an honest representation of the camps as opposed to
embarking on an anti-racial crusade, as camp leaders felt predecessors had
done, Crossman was given complete access to the boys and their activities,
which allowed her to portray complexities from either perspective.
Crossman adds: “We weren’t allowed to have any black crew members or
associates involved in the production, or talk to the boys about politics.
“I wanted to start an open debate that would allow people to say what they
are really thinking without feeling ashamed.
“As South Africans we have to start looking at each other like human beings that
don’t only relate to each other according to colour. My hope is that this film
makes us look in the mirror and acknowledge the fears that we harbour as a
nation, so that we can reach a sense of emotional empathy and move past it,’
Through the lens
Director of photography, Graham Boonzaaier who has been involved in various
productions including dramas, commercials and music videos, shot the film on a
Canon 5D camera.
Says Boonzaaier: “I feel documentary filmmaking is a really delicate process, and
requires a lot of trust-building between the characters and the filmmakers, as
well as great synergy on the side of the filmmakers so as not to bulldoze
characters within the film.’
Boonzaaier recalls filming scenes where guns were pointed in the boys’ faces as
part of their training: “This was a very interesting scene to film; I understand
the merit of training for self-defence, and the fact that in South Africa having a
gun can be seen as the norm.
“I personally don’t believe in owning a gun and wouldn’t ever have one. That
being said, it made me nervous watching a real gun (which was checked and
verified to be empty of bullets) being pointed at anyone’s head.’
Fatherland featured at IDFA in Amsterdam in November, and hopes to attract
potential buyers and achieve international distribution are high. As well as a run
on the 2014 international festival circuit, plans for the documentary include
being featured in a school road show, reaching audiences that would otherwise
not have commercial access to screenings.