Mahala Magazine review: 'Dear Mandela is a masterclass in ambitious documentary making.'

August 5, 2011

MAHALA Magazine
by Sihle Mthembu

DEAR MANDELA (Winner Best South African Documentary)

There are no credible statistics about the number of slums in South Africa, and as the government tries to implement the Slums Act, they face an opposition of different kind. Directed by Dara Kell and Christopher Nizza, Dear Mandela is a masterclass in ambitious documentary making. The film follows Mnikelo, Mazwi and Zama as they try and oppose the government imposed eviction plan. Dear Mandela has a series of well planned sequences and between the social statistics we learn about the lives of the three characters. They offer a kind of uncensored honesty that comes with youth. As the trio-take their case to the highest court in the country they rely on the kindness of their community and lawyers who are willing to take up their case pro-bono.

Kell and Nizza have in this film successfully merged a blend of each of the individual characters without compromising the social background in which the film finds its roots. This perhaps comes as a result of the work Kell did as an editor for Jesus Camp. The film uses largely handheld camera work and the resulting footage makes the viewer feel as if they are a fourth character in the film. With portraits of Mandela as backdrop, the film expresses the social upheaval and disillusionment that is now becoming commonplace amongst South Africans.

Zama is perhaps the most dynamic of the three characters and through her story as an AIDS orphan, the directors have drawn us closer to the plight of many orphans who are now homeless as a result of the plan. The film climaxes as the case is heard at the constitutional court in what by all accounts can best be described as a David vs Goliath encounter. The result is enthralling and is delivered in an unexpected way. Dear Mandela if you live in the most divided society in the world is one of those films that will never leave you, the only question I wonder is did they clear the name rights with the Nelson Mandela foundation?