Film captures family's loss and pain

Published Oct 20, 2003


When looking at documentaries, the content shapes the style - not the other way around. Documentaries are not crowd pleasers.

They serve a specific function - to inform on a baser, more honest level. Mark Kaplan is the hand behind Between Joyce and Remembrance, a candid take at the ripple effect the killing of Port Elizabeth anti-apartheid activist Siphiwo Mtimkulu had. The obvious were affected - Siphiwo's mother and his son Sikhumbuzo (meaning remembrance in Xhosa).

Between Joyce and Remembrance is the produce of seven years of filmmaking, which began before the inception of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Two earlier short versions were made from Kaplan's material. The 1999 version, Where the Truth Lies, won numerous international awards, including Best International Documentary 1999 at the One World Media Awards in London as well as the Best of the Fest award at the Vermont International Film and TV Festival 2000.

Between Joyce and Remembrance was screened at this year's Encounters International Documentary Film Festival and the 3 Continents Film Festival.

It is also the first time Kaplan has added a bit of himself to the product.

The documentary is filmed with a series of interviews with Siphiwo's family, friends, fellow activists and most jarring, the son. Sikhumbuzo was three months old when his father was caught, detained and tortured.

If one looks at the broader message, this is a film about Sikhumbuzo coping with his father's legacy and the attendant issues of not living up to a man deified by his community.

The film took seven years to complete, it is rough and ready, Kaplan making his points, almost in a rush, eager to illustrate the entire scope of the events surrounding Siphiwo's death, two decades ago.

Apart from dramatic interviews, there are also dramatic reconstructions of Siphiwo's torture and archive footage of the TRC and newspaper articles.

The narrative is in the first person, director Kaplan never meeting Siphiwo, but felt a powerful urge to uncover the mystery.

"I saw a newspaper article about this man who was suing the minister of police and then just disappeared," Kaplan said.

The film also mentions Kaplan's brush with the Security Police and his exile from South Africa.

The film illustrates Siphiwo's mother, Joyce confronting him, trying to steer him clear from his involvement in resistance politics and she finds herself a target for the Security Police.

Contrasting the succession of tear-jerking interviews, is a joyful reunion at Joyce's home, with human rights activist, Di Bishop.

Bishop had direct involvement with Siphiwo, campaigning for his release from detention. Both ruminate on the pain that had been inflicted upon them by the Security Police.

The film goes into Siphiwo's detention in detail. Spliced with dramatic reconstructions, we get to see Siphiwo nearly drowned in a bath of running water, shocked, and poisoned with Thallium.

Only the security police had access to the substance, though throughout they deny this in the hearings.

The central villain is Gideon Niewoudt, the man singled out by Joyce and Siphiwo (after his return from detention, only to be imprisoned again and be killed).

In his amnesty hearing, Niewoudt refutes ever torturing and poisoning Siphiwo. Countering Niewoudt is an interview with Frances Ames, head of neurology at Groote Schuur Hospital. She said that it was poison (Thallium in fact), that was coursing through Siphiwo's body and his hair falling out is evidence enough.

In the penultimate scene Niewoudt claimed to be a reborn Christian, having made his peace with God and asked Kaplan to organise a meeting with Joyce and the rest of Siphiwo's family, ostensibly to ask for forgiveness.

It is a moving scene, Siphiwo's parents struggling to come to terms with the architect of their misery.

They deny him forgiveness. Sikhumbuzo then smashes a heavy vase against Niewoudt's head, fracturing his skull.

Between Joyce and Remembrance is a powerful documentary, recapturing a family's loss and pain.

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