JOHANNESBURG — Forty years after the community of Sophiatown was destroyed by the apartheid government, the spirit of its people was revived in two feature films at the Cape Town World Cinema Festival that ran last week as part of the Sithengi Film and Television Market.
Zola Maseko’s feature, “Drum,” the story of investigative journalist Henry Nxumalo set against the backdrop of the Sophiatown of the 1950s, opened the World Cinema Festival to a standing ovation Nov. 12.
Another feature-doc film shot clandestinely in the township in 1959 was resurrected for a surprise revival-premiere Nov. 19.
“Come Back, Africa,” shot by Lionel Rogosin and not seen for decades, was restored by Italy’s Bologna Institute for South Africa’s National Film and Video Foundation.
Sophiatown, a vibrant predominantly black community just outside Johannesburg, created its own style of music, dancing and fashion — producing some of the country’s best known musicians such as Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba.
It was razed to the ground during the 1960s by the government as part of its policy of forced removals of black people and redeveloped as a suburb for whites.
Rogosin’s film is regarded as a classic that, although fiction, includes unique footage of many of the characters from Sophiatown who are celebrated in Maseko’s “Drum,” including the real Henry Nxumalo, played by Taye Diggs in the Maseko pic.
The ninth Sithengi market, running Nov. 12-20, was attended by 1,500 delegates from more than 50 countries.