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Sophiatown

Featuring original footage of a reunion concert as its starting point, "Sophiatown" is a compelling investigation of a lost South African community's wider history. Pic pulls together an impressive raft of interviewees, including Nelson Mandela, Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim. Docu could get some broadcasters and niche distribs humming its tune.

Featuring original footage of a reunion concert as its starting point, “Sophiatown” is a compelling investigation of a lost South African community’s wider history. Though not as commercial as its obviousprogenitor, “Buena Vista Social Club,” pic pulls together an impressive raft of interviewees, including South African president Nelson Mandela, plus jazz greats Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim. Docu could get some upscale broadcasters and niche distribs humming its tune.

In its ’40s-to-mid-’50s heyday, Sophiatown, part of Johannesburg, was a Harlem of the southern hemisphere: Artists and gangsters, blacks, whites, Asians and others mixed freely before the ‘hood was bulldozed, its population moved to “tribal zones” from 1955 onwards. Through candid interviews and archival footage, pic builds engaging portrait of the township’s vibrant musical scene. Topic could have made a film twice as long, but experienced documaker Lamche wisely keeps things tight. The music is the star here, and editing mixes in lashings of well-recorded perfs (from the big names to less well-known artists) as background to the cultural history lesson. Lensing is occasionally gimmicky in its use of f/x, but not over-intrusive.

Sophiatown

U.K.-Ireland

  • Production: A Little Bird production, in association with Ochre Moving Pictures. (International sales: Little Bird, London/Dublin.) Produced by Pascale Lamche. Executive producers, James Mitchell, Indra de Lanerolle, Lebohang Morake, Rob Lowden, Nick Fraser, Yves Jeanneau. Directed, written by Pascale Lamche.
  • Crew: Camera (color/B&W, DigiBeta PAL), Dominc Black; editor, Catherine Meyburgh; musical director, Bheki Khoza; art director, Angela Halle. Reviewed at Edinburgh Film Festival (Documentary), Aug. 18, 2003. (Also in Locarno Film Festival -- Filmmakers of the Present.) English, Afrikaans dialogue. Running time: 82 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Hugh Masekela, Nelson Mandela, Abdullah Ibrahim, Juergen Schadeberg, Jonas Gwaglia, Dolly Rathebe, Dorothy Masuka.