ScreeningThe Gauteng Film Commission (GFC) is screening a series of locally-produced short films on themes of sport and disability, as part of the three-day Arnold Classic Africa sports festival held at the Sandton Convention Centre, from May 18th to 20th.

The Arnold, named for bodybuilding champion and movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, is an international sports festival held annually on six continents, with an emphasis on body-building, martial arts, health and fitness. The local partner is the Gauteng Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation, which includes the Gauteng Film Commission. The GFC has been involved with the Arnold since 2016.

The GFC’s objective is to use the Arnold as a forum for information sharing and dialogue, and to develop an appreciation of local film content through screenings of films supported or funded by the GFC, as well as to encourage the participation of the youth in film and TV. Most of the films relate either to sport, or to disability, which is one of the Arnold themes.

The screenings have also been linked to the struggle icons Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu, whose centenary year this is. As the GFC’s Desmond Mthembu points out, Madiba was himself a boxer. One of the films is a biography of Albertina Sisulu entitled “When Rock Beat Paper”, by Maxwell Rosenzweig.

On the opening day, Friday, the theme was disability. The first screening, attended by students from schools which educate deaf children, was a documentary about a remarkable dance company based in Cape Town, called the Unmute Dance Company, which encourages deaf and disabled people to explore the potential of their bodies through dance.

The 26-minute film is called “The Womb Dance”. As director Ratsheko Nthite and several actors in his film explain, the reference is to the freedom that unborn children in the womb have to move at their pleasure, without experiencing the world as an obstacle. There is also their relationship with their mothers, who are the only ones who can feel their movements.

In the movie, people in wheelchairs dance with surprising energy and speed inside their chairs; one man with no legs pulls himself out of his chair and joins a dance while supporting himself on his arms on the floor. While practicing their moves for a stage production they have choreographed themselves, called Ashes (it deals with post-apartheid South Africa rising from the ashes), the dancers make some telling observations.

One, who has spent her whole life in a wheelchair, remarks that she is comfortable with moving about in her chair, it is only other people who can be obstacles. Another regrets that she is unable to communicate effectively with the deaf dancers because she never learned sign language, and suggests that sign language ought to be taught at all schools to promote integration with the deaf. Another urges that parents of disabled children do their utmost to take them to social events, to integrate them as much as possible into ordinary life and fight against the stigma of disability.

This is Ratsheko Nthite’s second film about people with disabilities – his plan is to make a whole series of films on the topic, and is talking to producers in East Africa about dubbing the films into Swahili. The first film, “Sibusiso’s Handprint”, has already won awards at the Zanzibar film festival and in China. He also has plans to turn “The Womb Dance” into a stage play. His philosophy when filming the disabled is not to emphasise what they cannot do – and thus elicit pity – but to emphasise what they can do, to emphasise their inner strength and their ability to integrate into society, if only society would give them that chance. He said he was “both humbled and grateful” to receive the funding from GFC that enabled him to make the movies.

  • Those attending the weekend Arnold Classic at the Sandton Convention Centre are welcome to visit the GFC screening room, which is on the second level, on the east side, the last room in the Film Centre section. The films will be run “back to back” throughout the three days.