Intimate portrayal of man and legend

LAST year praise was heaped on Brett Lotriet for his documentary Miracle Rising: South Africa, in which he adroitly encapsulated the emotions and actions in the build-up to our country’s first free and fair elections.

Now the director is back behind the lens – this time with the focus solely on the late Nelson Mandela. Interestingly, he has adopted a Benjamin Button-esque approach to his storytelling.

THE LEGEND: Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela will forever be remembered for his iconic role as a freedom fighter. His legacy continues to be a breeding ground for TV and the big screen, with History Channel's Nelson Mandela: Redrawn a case in point. Credit: History Channel

Told in eight chapters, the poignant documentary features a compilation of personal accounts from the likes of Charlize Theron, U2’s Bono, Sir Ian McKellen, Bill Cosby, Jeremy Thompson, Larry King and Richard Branson.

From a logistical point of view, it wasn’t easy getting these people on camera. But the director points out that, in the end, it was worth it.

“We finished about two-and-a-half months ago. But we worked on it for a good year and a half. We travelled around the world and found different people who were influenced by or looked up to Nelson Mandela. They ranged from celebrities to politicians to friends and family.”

Given his previous work, Lotriet explains why he gravitated towards this subject.

“Once we were done with Miracle Rising, there was so much footage and research that we had done that was left over. That was an important documentary as it spoke of many people and their involvement in averting a civil war.

“Ultimately, it was more about South Africa. Born out of that, we wanted to focus on him (Mandela). To, in a way, create a more intimate portrayal of the man behind the myth.

“I wanted to get to grips with who he was. I think there was so much myth around the man that it was difficult to see the human being,” he shares.

Aside from trawling through archives for footage, the documentary also features re-enacted scenes.

Lotriet offers: “He was an astute politician and a genius at that. That comes out in the documentary. As a director, my job is to get the best interview out of everyone on camera.”

The documentary maker’s notable interviews in Nelson Mandela: Redrawn include those with journalist and author John Carlin, who wrote Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation; and editor, journalist and author, Richard Stengel, who penned Madiba’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

The director points out: “Their intimate understanding of him was critical for us to get behind the myth.

“The thing that really stands out is that we idolise this man and there are many reasons for it.

“But if we elevate him too high, his achievement becomes unrepeatable. And I think that would be a tragedy in terms of his legacy.

“I wanted people, when they finish and walk away, to have that feeling of possibility in front of them – like a kid has.

“I had this vision of him as this kid running through the fields where the possibilities are endless. I wanted to end with that.

“That’s why I decided to tell the story in reverse. To chronologically capture the story we rely on re-enactments and anecdotes.”

And Cosby contributes a big part on the latter aspect.

“Bill Cosby tells the story of Nelson Mandela in jail. How he would eat and put the best part of the meal in the centre of his plate to savour it last. It talks to his (Mandela’s) level of patience, understanding and discipline.”

While the nostalgic memories abound, Lotriet makes a painstaking effort to keep interwoven family relationships from derailing the main story.

He shares: “He must be the most well-covered politician of all time. We were looking for anecdotes and footage that people didn’t use.

“We focused on the fabric of what made him Nelson Mandela. We looked for people who had some kind of connection with him.

“Sometimes, it is a little off the beaten track, like the interview with Cosby. When you see the story, it offers a humanity that you can’t falsify. He is completely authentic.”

And so the legend of Mandela reaches an inspirational conclusion.

• Nelson Mandela: Redrawn airs on History (DStv channel 186) tomorrow at 8.30pm.