First Run Features // 2009 // 56 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 3rd, 2011
A quest for reconciliation becomes a journey to forgiveness.
Sidney Bloch is a wealthy, internationally recognized professor of Psychiatry. He has lived in Australia for the past forty years, but he grew up and received his college education in apartheid-era South Africa. Sidney did not agree with apartheid and didn't like the way the government was running his country, but he did nothing to combat what was going on. He was simply a bystander throughout his formative years, and when he graduated he fled South Africa without hesitation. As time has passed, Sidney has felt increasing levels of guilt about his lack of action. At long last, he has resolved to return to his home country and try to find some measure of reconciliation.
Wrong Side of the Bus is a short, good-hearted documentary that focuses on Sidney Bloch's journey of redemption, but it's really more engaging as a portrait of modern-era South Africa. The very sociable Sidney constantly approaches black people on the streets and asks them a series of rather blunt questions: "Do you remember the days of apartheid? What did you think of all that? Do you hate all white people?" Remarkably, no one snaps at Sidney or seems irritated by his queries. The grace with which each person answers these questions is strikingly similar, as are the the answers they provide. Throughout the film, we hear one person after another say, "We still have painful memories, but we've learned to forgive, we just want to focus on loving one another and it's time to move on."
Also intriguing is a scene in which Sidney attempts to persuade many of his format college classmates to meet up for a "reconciliation meeting." The camera captures some visible discomfort on the faces of many of these folks, as they're clearly not thrilled with the idea of revisiting the dark days of the past. Only a handful of people actually show up at the meeting, and they engage in some heated yet productive conversation about what happened then and what can be done about it now.
Still, the doc's central storyline does feel a bit less significant than it seems to believe it is, as the journey seems more a form of self-serving personal therapy for Sidney than something that anyone else really needs. The man has returned to South Africa in the hopes of finding someone who will alleviate his guilt. He eventually finds that in the form of a South African tour guide, who helpfully tells Sidney that he has nothing to be ashamed of and that he has demonstrated great boldness in returning to his country to seek forgiveness. Sidney seems hesitant to accept this at first, but his teenage son (who also narrates the documentary) insists, "Dad, I think you've reached the point where you can accept this now." Tears and hugs ensue, but the moment is a bit undercut by the fact that we feel it's at least partially being staged as a satisfying sequence of catharsis for the film.
The DVD transfer is hit-and-miss, as the footage varies in quality depending on where Sidney happens to be at the time. Thankfully, the documentary doesn't rely too heavily on talking heads and consistently follows Sidney to a variety of different locations of note. Audio is okay, though some of the music sounds a bit distant at times. Supplements include an interview with director Rod Freeman and a study guide.
Wrong Side of the Bus isn't quite the emotionally shattering portrait of healing it really wants to be, but it's an informative hour and a generally worthwhile look at a country's present-day atmosphere.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 56 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Study Guide