The acclaimed documentary feature Freedom Square and Back of the Moon, directed by Academy Award® Nominee Angus Gibson and celebrated artist and filmmaker William Kentridge, was recently screened at the world-renowned Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
Freedom Square and Back of the Moon (1986) focuses on Sophiatown, the closest place to the city centre of Johannesburg that was occupied by black South Africans. It was home to writers, journalists, artists, politicians – the black intellectual heart of the city. It is not surprising then that it was the first area to be targeted by the Nationalist Government for removals. In this documentary, Angus Gibson and William Kentridge use interviews, archive material, drawings and extracts from the protest play Sophiatown to explore the life and destruction of Sophiatown.
Sophiatown was established in 1900 and, since its earliest days, was a multicultural melting pot of families with different racial and cultural backgrounds. Sophiatown enjoyed its freedom as a racially integrated area. ‘Swinging Sophiatown’ was known for its rich jazz music scene and was an intellectual, artistic and political hub for those opposed to apartheid, until its destruction by the Apartheid Government from 1955 to 1959. Gibson and Kentridge capture this essence of Sophiatown in Freedom Square and Back of the Moon.
Film producer Anant Singh facilitated the participation of the film in Montreux’s film series programme held at the Cinéma Hollywood theatre. He says, ‘Angus and William created an amazing film that captures the spirit of Sophiatown – the vibrancy of the community, the American-inspired fashion, all revolving around jazz in clubs like Back of the Moon, which was frequented by Madiba and his friends. When I watched the film recently, I thought it is a perfect fit for the Montreux Jazz Festival as jazz was such an important part of life in Sophiatown.’
Gibson is one of South Africa’s premier documentary filmmakers and is a founding member of Free Filmmakers, a film co-operative established in 1985 to create relevant South African cinema. Since 1983, when he created his first television drama, he has produced, directed, and co-written numerous highly-acclaimed and internationally award-winning documentary series and TV dramas for British and South African television, including the Heartlines series, Yizo Yizo, and Soweto: a History. He also has a rich documentary feature film experience. He co-directed the Oscar-nominated authorised biography Mandela for Jonathan Demme’s production company. His diverse media projects, which include audiovisual contributions to the Apartheid Museum and the Hector Pieterson Museum, have been influential in the anti-apartheid movement.
He says, ‘Freedom Square and Back of the Moon is as relevant today in our society as it was when William and I made it. The memory of Sophiatown is documented for posterity through our film and the jazz music that was loved by its people. We are grateful to Anant for identifying the Montreux Jazz Festival as a platform for our film, and we are delighted to be sharing this unique South African experience with the Montreux audience.’
Kentridge is internationally acclaimed for his drawings, films, theatre and opera productions. His practice is born out of a cross-fertilisation between mediums and genres, and responds to the legacies of colonialism and apartheid. His aesthetics are drawn from the medium of film’s own history, from stop-motion animation to early special effects. Kentridge’s drawing, specifically the dynamism of an erased and redrawn mark, is an integral part of his expanded animation and filmmaking practice.
Kentridge’s work has been seen in museums and galleries around the world since the 1990s, including Documenta in Kassel, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Albertina Museum in Vienna, Musée du Louvre in Paris, Whitechapel Gallery in London, Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen and the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid.
An exhibition of Kentridge’s work, entitled William Kentridge: A Poem That Is Not Our Own, is currently showing at the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland and will run through to 13 October 2019. The exhibition, which features Kentridge’s extensive body of work, also includes an entire room of stage decor designed for the 1986 musical Sophiatown.