African Films and Teaching


The issue of using film in teaching African history has not been spoken about much on H-AFRICA. If anybody is interested, however, there is a movie that I saw at its premier on Friday night that might be of considerable interest for those involved in teaching African and South African history in particular. It is called Heart and Stone, and is directed by Bridget Thompson. It is about the life of the South African political activist and now vice president of the senate, Govan Mbeki.

What is remarkable about this movie is that it cuts across all the conventional narratives about the South African past that are set in a nationalist paradigm. It tells about aspects that are not usually spoken about in political biographies - family life, music, interaction with traditional structures in rural areas etc. It is a deeply personal movie and I highly recommend it for people teaching about oral history methodologies, South African history and how different histories interact with each other.

One of the fascinating things is that it not only is about rural struggles in South Africa but also about how this interacts with previous pasts, particularly in the eastern Cape. I feel it tells more about South Africa and its past than those histories which follow the line of the rise and emergence of political individuals and organisations. If anyone is interested in the movie they could contact me and I will try and put you in contact with the distributors.

Date sent:      Tue, 16 May 1995
From:           Bob LaRue, Fairview High School

A thank you to Les Witz for his contribution on using film for African studies. As a high school teacher, I frequently use films to supplement my learning activities. Along the analytical-didactic path I show some segments from Mazuri's Triple Heritage series.

I always get requests to show "The Gods Must Be Crazy." I seldom give in, but to better prepare students for viewing this film critically, I have begun to collect critical articles on the film. When it opened here in Boulder, CO ten or so years ago, there was substantial brew-ha about the film. I have recovered some of the clippings from the debates over the "accuracy" and evil elements of the film. I would be very interested in comments, suggestions for using this film responsibly. Please post me either citations for historical/political/anthropological/etc. articles about the film and/or its light weight sequel. Thanks.

Date sent:      Wed, 17 May 1995
From:           Eugenia Herbert, Mount Holyoke College

Apropo of using "The Gods Must Be Crazy" for teaching purposes. You may well be aware of the sequence in the John Marshall film "N!ai, The Story of a !Kung Woman" that shows the squalor of a Bushman camp in Namibia and then the arrival of the film crew to shoot the pristine coke bottle scene. You may not have the time to show all this, but it's the best way I know to use The Gods Must Be Crazy to provoke discussion about the noble savage myth.

Date sent:      Wed, 17 May 1995
From:           David Ericson, Virginia Tech

Bob LaRue asks about "The Gods Must Be Crazy". This film will teach nothing accurately about the history of the people or the region involved. Especially for a course that uses film about South Africa, I'd recommend as a required film Peter Davis' 2-hour documentary, "In Darkest Hollywood: Cinema and Apartheid". Among other virtues, the film deals specifically with Jamie Uys's "The Gods Must Be Crazy" by juxtaposing clips from two interviews: one with Uys and one with another filmmaker/sociologist who documents all of Uys's distortions.

That is just a small part of the overall documentary, which traces the relationship of hollywood and South African film industries with the apartheid state. I don't have the reference info for the film at my side, but can get it if anyone is interested.

From:           Robert A. Hess, Messiah College
Date sent:      Fri, 19 May 95

A friend of mine who is teaching a course on Modern Europe seeks titles for videorecordings on European colonialism in Africa. I'd be grateful for suggestions. I am aware of the series "The Africans" edited by Ali Mazrui and have used them. I believe that some West Africans have made some films concerning the French presence in West Africa, but I do not know titles. Of couse, such films would need to have subtitles for our students or be available in English versions.

Date sent:      Sun, 21 May 1995
From:           Nancy Hunt,

Please, yes, David Ericson, do post the information on "In Darkest Hollywood." Many thanks.

From:           Simon Katzenellenbogen, Manchester University
Date sent:      Thu, 18 May 1995

I would be very interested in both seeing and showing to students the film "Heart and Stone". Could Les Witz provide further information on how to contact the producers and/or distributors?

More generally I have been using off-air recordings of television programmes broadcast here. If I remember in time to ask, our audiovisual service will tape them for me, only charging for the tape used. I would imagine though that there are more television programmes about Africa here than in the United States.

Date:         Mon, 22 May 1995 09:33:00 EDT
From:         "Harold_G.Marcus" <22634MGR@MSU.EDU>

I use "Mr. Johnson" to give students a feel for the personalities, issues, effects, and by-products of colonialism. It has a powerful effect on students.

Date sent:      Mon, 22 May 1995
From:           Eugenia Herbert, Mount Holyoke College

In re: films on European colonialism, you might want to consider Ousmane Sembene's "Emitai" which deals with resistance to the French in the Casamance area. The trouble is, it is not available on video--only 16 mm film.

Another, less well-known film which is on video is "Sambizanga", dealing with Portuguese colonial rule in Angola and the work of a woman film maker, still a rarity in African cinema. It's available through California Newsreel.

Date sent:      Mon, 22 May 1995
From:           Samuel Kasule, University of Derby

For Harold Marcus: Could I ask what you actually mean by `by-products of colonialism' as far as "Mr Johnson" is concerned?

I intend to use the text on a literature course next year and therefore need to know about the varied interpretations of the text.

Date sent:      22 May 95
From:           A.T. Miller, Union College

One of the best films that shows the relations and interactions of Europe in Africa that comes from an African perspective is "Lumumba:La Mort du Prophete" (well subtitled from California Newsreel) Another film from the same source, "Afrique: Je te Plumerai" by Jean-Marie Teno is also excellent on the colonial and neo-colonial relationships.

Raoul Peck made Lumumba, which has excellent juxtapositions of Congo/Zaire and Belgium and very interesting meditations on the relationship as well as strong historical footage (they were banned from filming in Zaire by Mobuto).

I use both films in my 20th-Century Africa course, but they are just as appropriate for Modern Europe. If you don't want a documentary style, then Ousmane's "Camp de Thiaroye" is a narrative historical film that is quite powerful on France's use of African troops in WWII and treatment of them afterwards.

Date sent:      Mon, 22 May 1995
From:           Denise Miller, Northwestern University

Ousmane Sembene, is of course, the first W. African film director that comes to mind, and many of his films deal with the French presence, even if that is not the main subject. You might check out "Ceddo," "Mandat Bi," or "Camp de Thiaroye." I believe they all have subtitles.

Date sent:      Mon, 22 May 1995
From:           Paul S Landau, University of New Hampshire

How does one get access to the Marshall film? Is this the same one in which he interviews !Xai to give the lie to Jamie Uys' claims for Gods Must Be Crazy? I'd like to show the Marshall film(s) next semester.

Those who are inclined might see my essay, "Bushmen and Coke Bottles" in the most recent *Southern African Review of Books*.

Date sent:      Mon, 22 May 1995
From:           Cora Presley, Tulane University

With regard to R. Hess' query about films on the European presence in Africa, there is of course the standard Basil Davidson series "Africa" in addition to the Ali Mazuri series "The Africans." Icarus films is distributing a documentary called "My Beloved Country", which looks at South Africa from the viewpoint of an Afrikaaner extremist ( Telephone 800-876-1710). Films for the Humanities and Sciences distributes "The Dutch in South Africa", "The Paths of Colonialism", "The Orange River", "Stanley and Livingstone", and "Trading in Africans." Some of the aforementioned are only 12 minutes in length. Others are 30 min to 60 min. The telephone number for Films for the Humanities is 800-257-5126.

Date sent:      Mon, 22 May 1995
From:           Peter Rogers, Williams College

For a course on African colonialism, I used Jean-Marie Teno's "Afrique, je te plumerai" (1992), a brilliant rendering of the colonial period and its neo-colonial aftermath in Cameroon. It's in French with English subtitles, and has a layered narrative style (including good use of archival film footage) that sets out historical trends very effectively. Since it begins and ends with contemporary political issues surrounding democratic opposition to President Paul Biya, and delves into the continuing effect of French cultural hegemony (esp. with regard to publishing), it would also work well for courses on modern Africa (history or politics). Available from California Newsreel distributors.

Date sent:      Tue, 23 May 95
From:           Harold_G.Marcus, Michigan State University

Samuel Kasule asked what I meant in referring to the "by-products of colonialism": the road, the law, the things.

Date sent:      Tue, 23 May 1995
From:           Eugenia Herbert, Mt. Holyoke College

For Paul Landau: The Marshall films, including "N!ai" are available from Documentary Educational Resources, 101 Morse St., Watertwon, MA 02172. (617) 926- 0491. I look forward to reading your piece in the *Southern AFrican Review of Books*.

Return to Menu

[an error occurred while processing this directive]