The Sophiatown Singer

1960

Directors: King Shaft and Michael Motumbo

Cast: Zanile Madiwa, Sanda Shandu, Ivy Nkutha, Clyde Berning, Chris Gxalabla

Running Time: 1 hour and 37 minutes

Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10

1960 was the opening film of the 43rd Durban International Film Festival https://www.durbanfilmfest.com/ held in July 2022 and is directed by King Shaft and Michael Motumbo. Set in Sophiatown in 1960 around the events of the Sharpeville Massacre of the 21st March 1960, this musical drama focuses on the life of the young singer Lindi played by Zanile Madiwa as she escapes the shackles of her destiny in a grim apartheid South Africa and eventually escapes to go and live in Germany and then returns years later in a post-apartheid country to reconcile her past.

1960 takes place in two eras in the obvious 1960 and in 2019, when the remains of a white police officer are discovered in Johannesburg, Constable Kobus Bernard played by Clyde Berning.

The best part about 1960 is the music although the scenes set in Sophiatown in a local tavern do come across as a play rather than a film due to the excessive theatricality of the acting, however the singing is what shines through.

The characterization and dialogue is very mixed and apart from some cringe worthy scenes featuring two caricatured white madams, most of 1960 is interesting if slightly didactic as if trying to explain the events surrounding the Sharpeville massacre and the Sophiatown music scenes to a contemporary South African audience that is unfamiliar with the history.

Sanda Shandu takes on the exuberant role of Lindi’s shy love interest whose fateful meeting will forever be etched into the older Lindi’s memory as she recounts the era to a young policeman in 2019 Johannesburg. The older Lindi is played by Ivy Nkutha as she tells the young policeman never to forget what happened during apartheid.

Unfortunately 1960 will have very limited appeal beyond the borders of South Africa as the historical aspect of the film might not be as well-known internationally but as for the co-directors and writer, their aim with this film is to create more awareness about the complex issues during the Apartheid years including exile, betrayal, protest, racial segregation and fame in another country.

Co-writer Bruce Retief does a good job of tying up all the loose ends of the narrative and the true mystery surrounding the death of Constable Kobus Bernard is revealed as the older Lindi reconciles the secrets surrounding what made her famous as she pursued a musical career abroad.

While the music makes up for the lack of characterization and subtext, 1960 is an interesting film but not as brilliant as director Angus Gibson’s Back of the Moon which premiered at DIFF in 2019 and won the Best South African Feature Film that year.

Streaming audiences can catch 1960 which is available via virtual screening on the Durban International Film Festival official website https://www.durbanfilmfest.com/ until 30 July 2022 when this festival ends. Catch 1960 now and support South African cinema.

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