The film opens with the following words:
If you are looking for Hell,
Ask the artist where it is.
If you cannot find an artist
Then you are already in Hell. - Avigdor Pawsner
The Creators is an ambitious undertaking -- shot, edited and directed by South Africans with the assistance of a bright young woman named Laura Gamse, who hails from Arlington, VA. The recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, she moved to South Africa to make a documentary about one phenomenal artist. "As I spent more time in the country," she recalls, "I realized that the story of just one person could not capture the diversity of -- and tensions within -- South African society. The wealth gap shocked me, not that I hadn't seen polarized wealth in the US, but in South Africa it is more extreme, and the suffering of its people more viscerally apparent. I wanted audiences to be able to feel the different textures of life in South Africa, as expressed through its artists' creations."
The film is oddly uplifting, given the indelible images of slums, violence and poverty. Despite the history of oppression that defined the nation for so long, the artists featured in this film are determined to make art in the form of music or dance or opera or graffiti. In between images of the artists, The Creators shows snippets of history lessons, including archival footage of an officious elected official intoning that apartheid "is a policy of good neighborliness" as images of police actions and brutality fill the screen.
Given the unrest in the Middle East that fills our television screens each night, The Creators is a worthy companion piece. It shows people who refuse to toe the line, whose music will not be silenced, who use their art to combat brutality and injustice. Particularly memorable is Mthetho, who was two years old when his father took off, leaving behind a Pavarotti CD. As the young man grew up in appalling poverty, he learned to sing by imitating the operatic songs and even pretends he can speak Italian. Although his voice is lovely and he is determined to be heard, it is also clear that he needs voice lessons and a mentor. Who knows whether that is realistic?
I've seen many documentaries filmed in Africa, but The Creators stands out for its insistence that attention be paid. Perhaps this is because Gamse gave the artists free rein to decide how and what they would say. Perhaps that is because it's a cautionary tale for nations whose citizens are just now rising up against oppression. Whatever the reason, it's a film you won't soon forget. It's screening at the Los Angeles Film & Music Weekend March 25-27 and hopefully will be coming to a town near you soon.