Sydney South Africa Film Festival
Documentary Movie – The Space: Theatre of Survival
(Reviewed by John Glennie)
At the height of Apartheid in South Africa in the 1960s, a small group of playwrights and actors were breaking all the rules of segregation and creating highly provocative plays about the plight of blacks.
This documentary covers the background and eventual introduction of the inhumane apartheid policy. It was said that if you were white you didn’t notice it really, but if you were black it was a part of daily life. Blacks could be shot dead for no reason. The attitude of many white South Africans changed after a white school teacher planted a bomb in a Johannesburg train station and called the police to clear the station so no one was hurt. They ignored him and the bomb killed and injured many – he was arrested and hanged.
We hear anecdotes from many actors, writers and producers – both black and white – who performed and were constantly waiting for the inevitable raids by the feared Special Branch of the police. Finding venues to perform was always difficult but Brian Astbury searched and eventually found a disused building and he found The Space. Audiences were mixed colour and were always at risk of being arrested for breaking racial segregation laws.
One of their more provocative plays, The Island, was seen by a visiting playwright and eventually taken to London and then to Broadway. In 1975 its two black actors, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, received Tony Awards. Soon after their return they were arrested by the Special Branch for treason and crimes against the state, driven 80 miles out and ordered to be shot. Fate didn’t allow the latter to occur and eventually, through the voices of some great British actors, they were freed.
The actors explain what it felt like to be black and always fighting against Government, censorship and fear! One of the key actors, Fatima Dike, said the audiences were predominantly white and “you would focus on one person and vent your feelings until that person was crying. Can you imagine how that feels?”
There is a lot of disturbing information in this documentary and it really is a must-see. I watched it a couple of times and was quite moved by the messages.