Filmmakers Honor Nelson Mandela with Tribeca’s ‘Power of Words’ Project

As the first anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death approaches on Friday, the Tribeca Film Institute is debuting a series of short films from five filmmakers who sought to tie the South African leader’s famous quotes to new narratives.

The aim of the Power of Words project — sponsored by Tribeca, Montblanc and the Nelson Mandela Foundation — is to reach younger audiences.

The first of the film shorts, from director Mira Nair and Tribeca film fellow Jasmine Velez, is tied to Mandela’s quote, “Difficulties break some men but make others.” Called “A Fork, A Spoon and a Knight,” the film tells the true story of a boy who grows up in the slums of Uganda but creates a chess sanctuary. Other films from James Marsh and Eva Weber, Nabil Elderkin, Ramin Bahrani and Hank Willis Thomas will be launched this week on Vimeo.

Kweku Mandela, the grandson of Mandela, said that the origins of the project date to 2009, when Tribeca’s Tamir Muhammad asked him if there could be a possible partnership to honor the South African leader. Mandela said that he was reluctant at first to have a series of movies tied to Mandela’s life, as the “ground had been traversed quite a bit.”

But then the idea came to do film shorts tied to some of his grandfather’s quotes, with the aim to reach a younger generation. The prelude to the project came in April 2013, when Tribeca Film Institute, the foundation and Montblanc ran a short video of Mandela in Times Square as part of a project to run creative content on outdoor screens just before midnight. That led them to expand the project to include teams of filmmakers making their own short narratives.

“It has taken us just about a year now to get the stories finished and ready to show the world,” Mandela said. “I think that they are all going to resonate, and I think that they are going to resonate in different ways.”

He added, “It gives them a unique perspective on the philosophy and essence of who my grandfather was.”

Beth Janson, executive director of TFI, said that they didn’t want to create shorts that were too slick or formulaic but ones that will get viewers will think about “what that quote means in the context of my day-to-day life.”

The filmmakers were each teamed with Tribeca Film Fellows, and the teams then conceived and produced the short films.

Other films debuting this week include “Of the Unknown,” from Marsh and Weber, tied to Mandela’s quote, “Poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” Elderkin directed “Capture Land,” tied to Mandela’s quote, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” And Bahrani’s “Lift You Up,” was inspired by the quote, “The habit of attending to small things and of appreciating small courtesies is one of the important marks of a good person.”

Thomas’ “Truth Booth” is actually an interactive installation that gathers video responses from the public on what the word “truth” means to them. It was inspired by the quote, “The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed.”

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