From the New York Times:
“Invictus” isn’t the only recent film to look at apartheid and the complicated legacy it left in South Africa. But unlike Clint Eastwood and his cast, Connie Field has taken the documentary route in “Have You Heard From Johannesburg,” a series of seven films that will have its world premiere this week in New York City.
Clocking in at eight and a half hours, “Have You Heard From Johannesburg,” which takes its title from a line in a 1976 song by Gil Scott-Heron, is meant to inspire and inform, not just entertain.
“I come from a perspective where nothing is neutral, but which recognizes that it is very important to have multiple perspectives,” said Ms. Field, whose earlier projects include the acclaimed 1981 film “The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter.”
Ms. Field has been working on the “Johannesburg” project since the mid-1990s, when she finished “Freedom on My Mind,” a documentary about the civil rights movement in the United States that was nominated for an Academy Award. She said she had originally conceived of a four-hour television series, but after her first trip to South Africa in 1996 she gradually came to realize that a much richer and complex tale was waiting to be told.
The struggle against apartheid was not just a South African story, she said, but also had an international component. That led her to focus on the relationship between the domestic South African anti-apartheid movement and its allies abroad, and took her to places like the United States, Britain, the Netherlands and Norway.
“This was the largest and most globalized human rights struggle of the 20th century, and unique in that what the outside world was asked to do was very strategic,” she said. “It’s really a model of how people in a country in an oppressive situation can work with people elsewhere” to “move from racism and colonialism to more democratic societies.”
A preliminary version of “From Selma to Soweto,” the fifth in the series, was released in 2006 under the title “Apartheid and the Club of the West,” and examines the role that black Americans played in moving the United States from support of white rule to sanctions. Another of the films, “Fair Play,” looks at the international sports boycott against South Africa, while “The Bottom Line” analyzes grass-roots efforts to force multinational companies to divest their holdings in South Africa, which ultimately crippled the regime.
If “Have You Heard From Johannesburg” can be said to have a hero, it would be Oliver Tambo. He led the A.N.C. from exile in London for nearly 30 years, acting as the public face of the anti-apartheid movement and in later years communicating secretly via computer diskette with Mr. Mandela, the film reveals. But he died a year before democratic rule was finally achieved.
“It is not a personal story about him,” Ms. Field said. “But he is kind of the unsung hero, the central backbone of this entire movement. Nobody knows much about him, and they should.”