In my experience not many films manage to reach us without some level of coercion or manipulation, especially where subjects such as the Aids pandemic take centre stage. As we become immune to messages, filmmakers have to resort to more and more extreme tactics to grab our attention.
“Keiskamma – a story of love” is a film made by South African director Miki Redlinghuys in 2007. It artfully manages to avoid the need for spectacle and its interest lies in its close attention to the particularities of an Eastern Cape community. To quote the producers at Plexus Films:
In the tiny Eastern Cape hamlet of Hamburg a fully fledged war is being fought. Grandmothers, the hospice and the good doctor Carol are fighting for hope, human dignity and the will to live. The women’s faithful fight to give to keep their community fit and on ARVs has been manifest in an incredible altarpiece, painstakingly sewn by 130 members.
Redlinghuys and her team have managed to present life as it is and in so doing have allowing us to respond authentically, creating room for real transformation. I loved the respect shown to the viewer – affording space both in the atmosphere created via sublime camerawork, subtle editing and music, and the wholly uncluttered narrative, sympathetic to in the rhythms of the meandering river from which the film gets its name.
We are allowed in, never voyeuristically – to a world of dignity, joy and sadness, a rare grace-embued privilege. “Keiskamma” is an antidote to writer J.M. Coetzee’s bleak vision of the Eastern Cape in “Disgrace”. Dr. Carol Baker, whose work is at the heart of the story, acknowledges this, saying that she
“deliberately chose to take the role of his daughter who chose to stay and accept the sins of the fathers and make a life … accepting all the corruption and crime and anger as part of the long end of apartheid and the dues white south Africans must pay to stay.”
The people of Hamburg really show us how to live; perhaps it is the closeness of death that makes that possible; and Carol is a shining example of one who has “lost her life so that she may find it”. (Interestingly at the time of writing a controversial statement has been issued by a Christian preacher to the effect that “The Church has AIDS”, based on 1 Corinthians 12:26: “When one part of the body is affected the whole body suffers”.)
Films such as Keiskamma make conventional scripting, as well as conventional preaching, even conventional religion itself, almost irrelevant. What matters is compassion, ubuntu, connectedness, generosity, authenticity, wisdom, and as a hymn in the movie stated (something like) “Let me know my place”: humility.
I was left wondering about the men – where were they? The ones which make an appearance were largely eccentrics, cross dressers, lone fishermen, or aloof artists. For sure, many will have become victims of AIDS, but those who remain also seem to display a certain apathy or inability to take up their place. Of course teachers such as Richard Rohr are seeing the crisis in Mens Spirituality and addressing it, for which I am grateful.
Keiskamma is a fabulous achievement in all departments, and one which makes me feel proud to be South African. You can follow the ongoing work of the The Keiskamma Trust online.