FILM REVIEW: VOËLVRY — THE MOVIE.
THEY WERE MORE than just angry young Afrikaans-speaking men. Musicians of the ilk of Johannes Kerkorrel, James Phillips, Koos Kombuis, Bernoldus Niemand, Willem Möller and others had the edge that could force change in a country locked down by blind racist imperatives. The army had written some of their lyrics for them, the Calvinism through which they were filtered, as young South Africans, wrote the rest. Representing bands such as Bernoldus Niemand en die Swart Gevaar, James Phillips and the Cherry Faced Lurchers and the Gereformeerde Blues Band, these were the musicians who took apartheid values, and put horns on them, for the country’s youth to think about. Their story is told in beautifully gritty detail in Lloyd Ross’s 2002 film: Voëlvry – the Movie, available for free through Shifty Records’ website until 29 April 2020.
The candid crafted quality of this film reminds you that documentary film making can be the king of the filmic discipline if done well. Last September, Ron Howard’s magnificent documentary on Luciano Pavarotti was screened at Cinema Nouveau. This piece of research on arguably one of Afrikaans culture’s most important moments in South Africa’s transition to not only democracy but cultural adulthood, stands alongside the Pavarotti piece in terms of its thoughtfulness, its ability to balance music with words, and the palpable portrait it paints of several people and a complex era.
Tightly focused with footage that grabs the moment by the scruff of its proverbial collar, this work with both hilarity and deep sadness reflects on everything from the problematic nature of Afrikaans culture available to the youth before the 1980s, to the horror of the State of Emergency in the country and the mixed values of mandatory army service for young men. There are values expressed in this work that evoke such films as Kanarie and Moffie, but this is the real thing. It includes a satiric paean to moustaches and a ballad to Hillbrow that you will never forget. Above all, there is a love for the courage, fierceness and rawness of the wave that the Voëlvry movement rode in South African conservative universities in the 1980s, rocking their sense of the real giving credence and relevance to Afrikaans youth in a way that was fresh and rude and contagious and vital.
This documentary, featuring everything from Steven Cohen’s t-shirts, worn by Kerkorrel in several instances, to nostalgic whiffs of the Black Sun, the African Jazz Pioneers and the radical fire of the Vrye Weekblad, is dynamite. It’s particularly important also for an understanding of Afrikaans cultural history that seems to have been forgotten by today’s youth. In short, it is exceptionally fine. Don’t miss this opportunity.
- Voëlvry: The Movie is written and directed by Lloyd Ross and made in memory of Johannes Kerkorrel and James Phillips. Featuring Koos Kombuis, André le Toit, Bernoldus Niemand, Dagga Dirk Uys, Jannie ‘Hanepoot’ van Tonder, Max du Preez, Willem Moller, Gary ‘Piet Pers’ Herselman, Tonia Selley, it is researched by Pearlie Joubert and available for free on vimeo through the Shifty Records website, until 29 April 2020.