Countdown to Freedom: 10 Days That Changed South Africa

This chronicle of the events that led to the overthrow of South Africa's apartheid government isn't so much an objective documentary as a canonization of newly elected president and African National Congress chief Nelson Mandela. (A card at the end thanks Mandela for "editorial independence" on the project.)

With:
Narrators: James Earl Jones, Alfre Woodard.

This chronicle of the events that led to the overthrow of South Africa’s apartheid government isn’t so much an objective documentary as a canonization of newly elected president and African National Congress chief Nelson Mandela. (A card at the end thanks Mandela for “editorial independence” on the project.)

Still, the well-intended film — which ran in limited theatrical situations last year — is a joyous piece of reportage. It’s hard not to be moved by the sight of lines of people waiting to vote for the first time in their lives, or the mass jubilation after the ANC victory.

But the filmmakers portray Mandela’s competition as “right-wing fanatics” or worse, not allowing for those who feared that sudden total upheaval of government might lead to dire social and economic consequences.

If such voices existed, they are ignored in favor of footage of beatings or bombings. Mandela has his detractors, and a more objective filmmaker might have made something of the pro-Mandela crowd’s cheering acknowledgment of Fidel Castro’s presence at the inauguration — much stronger, the docu notes, than the reception for Hillary Clinton and the Gores, for instance, or (on the other side) Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yassir Arafat.

The film is at times reminiscent of “The War Room,” the recent docu of Bill Clinton’s campaign, footage of which is included to help identify former Clinton pollster Stan Greenberg, one of several U.S. advisers helping on the Mandela campaign. The Americans’ presence is reflected in commercials as slick as anything shown on U.S. TV during election years.

Docu is frequently sloppy, from chronology (the “10 days” of the title are arbitrarily assigned, lasting roughly from the final Mandela rally April 23 to his May 10 inauguration), through the cliche-ridden script by Rory O’Connor and director Danny Schechter, to loud graphics and busy editing by Christopher Maji, Ken Kaplan and Howard Katzman.

Countdown to Freedom: 10 Days That Changed South Africa

(Tues. (28), 9:45-11 :30 a.m., Cinemax)

Production: Filmed and videotaped in South Africa by Globalvision in association with Distant Horizon, Videovision Entertainment and SCY Prods. Executive producers, Rory O'Connor, Helena Spring; producer, Anant Singh; coordinating producer, Michael P. Smith; segment producers, Ken Kaplan, Stuart Sender; associate producer, Yvette Tomlinson; director, Danny Schechter; script, O'Connor, Schechter.

Crew: Camera, Buster Reynolds; editors, Christopher Maji, Ken Kaplan, Howard Katzman; art director, Paul Hillmann; sound, Fuzzy Marcus.

Cast: Narrators: James Earl Jones, Alfre Woodard.

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