Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Interview with Dara Kell, Co-Director and Producer of DEAR MANDELA, BFF Grand Chameleon Award Winner

Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Interview with Dara Kell, Co-Director and Producer of DEAR MANDELA, BFF Grand Chameleon Award Winner

Article excerpt

Dear Mandela: When the South African government promises to 'eradicate the slums' and begins evicting shack dwellers from their homes, three friends who live in Durban's vast shanty towns refuse to be moved. DEAR MANDELA follows their journey from their shacks to the highest court in the land as they invoke Nelson Mandela's example and become leaders in an inspiring social movement.

Mazwi, an enlightened schoolboy; Zama, an AIDS orphan and Mnikelo, a mischievous shopkeeper are part of a new generation who feel betrayed by the broken promises of Mandela's own political party, the African National Congress. Determined to stop the evictions, they met with their communities by candlelight and discovered that the new innocuoussounding 'Slums Act' legalized the evictions and violated the rights enshrined in the country's landmark Constitution. With the help of pro bono lawyers, they challenged the Slums Act all the way to the highest court in the land - the hallowed Constitutional Court.

The extraordinary achievements of the shack dwellers did not come without a price. As the beloved Mandela's portrait beams down from schoolroom chalkboards and shack walls, Mazwi, Zama and Mnikelo learn of the sacrifices that come with leadership. Shack demolitions, assassination attempts and government repression test their resolve to continue. By turns devastating, inspiring and funny, DEAR MANDELA offers a new perspective on the role that young people can play in political change and is a fascinating portrait of South Africa coming of age.

Dara Kell is an award-winning South African documentary and television editor. Her editing work includes Academy Award-nominated 'Jesus Camp'; 'The Reckoning' (which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival) and Emmy Award winner 'Diamond at the Rock'. Her clients include National Geographic, Discovery Network, History Channel and MTV She was a field producer for the Amnesty International documentary 'Human Rights, Human Needs' and has edited short films for Human Rights Watch and the MacArthur Foundation. Darà is also a media educator and facilitates camera and editing trainings with grassroots groups across the United States. She graduated from Rhodes University with a Bachelor of Journalism in Documentary Filmmaking and Political Science. Her thesis film 'Indlini Yam' (In My House) won the Dolphin Award for Best Documentary.

Faktorovich: What are the challenges of working with interviewees that speak a foreign language like Zulu? Did you know any Zulu before you started filming? Did you learn any during filming?

Kell: None of the crew spoke Zulu, but most of the people in the film are fluent in English. The main characters were very accommodating in translating for us when we were in situations where Zulu was mainly being spoken. It was important to us that we make a largely vérité film, so we didn't want to stop the action while we were filming. We would keep the camera rolling even though we didn't understand exactly what people were saying. We would pick up words here and there, and every so often we would make sure that the scene was still something that related to the overall story.

This approach meant that we had a huge amount of footage to work with - scenes that sometimes ran for hours. We were very fortunate to find South Africans living in New York who were willing to translate every word. This painstaking process was the only way we could edit the film so that it captured the heart of the scene, and the heart of the story.

Faktorovich: What are some of the reasons the settlers of the Forman Road Informal Settlement want to stay 5 miles from the city-center of Durban, Africa? Are there benefits, jobs, etc. that they have there that they wouldn't have access to if they moved away from the city?

Kell: Yes, being close to the city is essential for the settlement residents. Although they have to live in shacks, at least they are close to jobs, schools and clinics. …

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