Films Against Racism project becomes a role model

FAR team at Berlinale, Germany
Films Against Racism, (FAR), which last year shot a series of movies inspired by the xenophobic attacks in parts of South Africa, has received intense interest in the content from Europe, following the screening and discussion of 4 of the films at the 2009 Berlinale Forum, part of the prestigious 59th Berlin International Film Festival in Germany.

Here Rehad Desai, filmmaker and activist, speaks about the project’s impact in Europe and its future plans.

“We wanted to show the world what happened on the ground during the xenophobic attacks. We found out xenophobia is not only a South African issue but a worldwide phenomenon and many people want to get rid of it. The films were an eye opener to the Europeans and also to us.”

The films have been selected for major European festivals such DOC Leipzig, Germany, the Human Rights Festival in Paris, the Human Rights Festival in Bolognia, Italy and another in Greece, among others.

While in Germany, over 600 DVDs and 3000 brochures for the films were distributed and more are still going out as the popularity of the films grow worldwide.  “We did this distribution as facilitators for mainly NGOs working in the field, church groups, trade unions, universities, and others.

“Discussions at Berlinale were spectacular and very encouraging and warming since here at home we had not had much recognition from our own people. We expected several institutions like the Ministry of Education and Home Affairs to give us that recognition by wanting to work together with us on the project.”

However, Berlin audiences identified with the messages.  “The people at the Festival were very much touched by the films. They were keen on the subjects tackled because in Europe xenophobia is alive and that is why many people, especially of immigrant nature, identified with the films.

“I am proud that the FAR project has become a role model for the world as it is being now sought after by other international organisations and activists,” said the veteran filmmaker.

He explained that many European NGOs and universities want to show the films as they felt the films addressed the race issues they have faced for a long time.

“They want people worldwide to receive the humanising xenophobic messages. In the FAR project, they have seen material that they readily embraced towards addressing their regional problems. They are supporting programming that addresses their own concerns.”

Importantly for the FAR team, at Berlinale they managed to forge links with the Heinrich Bolls Fund, a major benefactor to filmmakers in Africa, as well as the German-based Action Africa, a fund managed by the German government that seeks to promote peace and security around the world. “Our aim is to promote peace through mass communication means like films,” commented Desai, “so we may be able to gain their support.”

Turning to local interest, Desai said since the films were publicised last year, a pilot project is now underway at Wits University under the Centre for Origins Department.

The films have also been earmarked for viewing through the South African Broadcasting Corporation. “We are currently waiting for the SABC to give us a license to show the films on the anniversary of the xenophobic attacks. More local broadcasting stations that have expressed interest include Cape Town Television, Mindset, and Soweto TV.”

Desai said new developments were likely to emerge in terms of a feature film based on the xenophobic attacks.

“I understand there are other filmmakers with DV8 films touching on xenophobia. My own company has had a feature idea on that theme for some time now. The idea is to create good movies of an anti-xenophobic nature.

“In fact, we are encouraging other filmmakers with such ideas to produce their projects. They might be addressing issues to do with immigration or poverty in Africa among other topics. We do not have funding for this work; we all did it out of our love for activism and love for a brotherly world.”

Desai encouraged other filmmakers in Africa and elsewhere to form networks “such as ours and address their own xenophobic problems in their own countries. They are free to contact us and we can share our experiences and knowledge.”

In Southern Africa, he said all the films will be showing in the near future with Namibia beginning to show in the “next few weeks”.

FAR intends to show the films in areas where the xenophobic attacks were high in South Africa and is looking to organise high profile screenings to ensure South Africans know the films exist – and watch them.