You are strong! You are beautiful! You are black! You belong!
Amandla! was the 2002 winner of the Sundance Film Festival's Documentary Audience Award and Freedom of Expression Award. Amandla! is the story of South African freedom music during Apartheid. The documentary contains current interviews with South Africans who lived through Apartheid, archival footage, and filmed performances. For all the potential this film possesses, there is a very limited audience who will truly enjoy what the film and the DVD have to offer.
Overall the film quality was okay. The interview quality was exceptional with very true color depth and skin tones. Some of the archival footage could have had a better film transfer, though it may be a reflection of the film's budget. Additionally, some of the filmed performances were sub par with some noticeable graininess appearing in the deeper colors, which also may be a reflection of the film's budget. The sound throughout the movie was, for the most part, clear and the soundtrack was beautiful. My largest complaint was that there were no subtitles for the South African music. If subtitles had been added, it would have added a new depth of meaning and appreciation to the music it is documenting.
The DVD does have a large amount of interesting extras. The Q&A with Lee Hirsch, Sherry Simpson, and Vusi Mahlasela, was conceptually a nice addition. However, in reality, the session was not shot with professional equipment. The sound was extremely quiet, and when the volume was raised to a level where it would be audible, there was a distracting presence of background noise that could have been filtered out. The session lasted about twenty minutes, and the camera shook unsteadily the entire time. The dark colors that appeared in this short were rather grainy and lacked depth that good filming and a good transfer would have prevented.
The commentary with Lee Hirsch and Sherry Simpson was easily my favorite extra on the disc. A nice mix of anecdotes, film composition commentary and some addition historical perspective, it did a great deal to broaden the experience of Amandla! and flesh out the documentary. The commentary, however, did not provide me with a broad enough historical perspective on South African Apartheid and I was unable to mesh events in the movie into a sequence of historical events, understanding all the influences that actual events would have had on the music. The DVD could have benefited immensely from the inclusion of a historical timeline for those of us not well-versed in South African history.
Vusi at Joe's Café is a filmed performance of Vusi Mahlasela. The sound quality of the performance was excellent. However, the mix was not one of the best of performance mixes I have heard. I found the guitar accompaniment was often distracting from the lyrics. Subtitles here might have been a nice addition so the viewer could understand the music, if a better performance was unavailable.
The music of Amandla! was beautiful, and the sing-along was a nice addition. This, in addition to the commentary was one of the nicer features presented on the DVD. The sing-along contained for songs: Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica (The People's Anthem), Thina Sizwe (Lamentation) Magoliwe, and Usi Letela Uxdlo. Some of the songs contained a brief commentary and all contained subtitles.
The interview with Dave Matthews was a neat addition, unfortunately it was poorly done. Matthews sat in an almost completely pink room, and the lighting made gave him an unnatural red undertone, which gave the impression that it was covering up for a pallid or sickly skin tone. The interview itself also had a distracting level of background noise.
The deleted scenes were a nice addition, with 19 to choose from. The inclusion of the production notes was a nice addition. However, the lettering appeared too small and too cramped to read on almost any normal-sized TV. This extra was much better suited for a computer.
Overall, I would like to reiterate that this documentary has a very, very specific audience: mainly historians or music lovers who are well versed in the history of the South African Apartheid. If this type of film interests you, I would highly suggest spending some time acquiring the proper historical background required for a complete enjoyment of the film. Since I believe that a good documentary should provide its viewers with enough information to enjoy that particular piece of history as presented, Amandla! remains guilty as charged. This court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Q&A with Director Lee Hirsch, Producer Sherry Simpson and Vusi Mahlasela Vusi at Joe's Pub
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