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Author: Lucia Saks
Title: AIDS Films, Southern Africa
Publication info: Ann Arbor, Michigan: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
June 2005

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Source: AIDS Films, Southern Africa

no. ns 2, June 2005


Lucia Saks, Assistant Professor, Program in Film/Video Studies, University of Michigan.


A major film collaborative project between Scandinavian public broadcasting services and Southern African filmmakers, Steps for the Future has produced a collection of 36 films on living with HIV/AIDS. The project began with the efforts of two dedicated documentarians, Iikka Vehkalahti, a commissioning editor for documentaries from YLE TV 2, Finnish Public Television and South African filmmaker, Don Edkins. The films embrace a variety of dramatic forms, genres and stylistics that fall broadly under the label of creative documentary. In terms of narrative structure, the films lean heavily on personal stories and the individual voice specifically in an attempt to "set in motion social change through individual transformation." All annotations are taken from the Steps for the Future website: (

Its My Life, (Brian Tilley, South Africa, 2002), 74 minutes.

Zackie Achmat is an AIDS activist who refuses to take anti-retrovirals until they are made freely available. After defeating the multinational drug companies, he takes on the South African government for its confusing policies around HIV/AIDS. When Zackie gets ill, his provocative position is not one all his friends and colleagues support. Everyone wants to know why he refuses to take the medicines that would let him lead a healthier life. Shot over five months, personal and public images are interwoven to provide an intimate look at an internationally profiled defiance campaign and the complexities of its leading figure.

Ask Me I'm Positive (Teboho Edkins, South Africa, 2003), 48 minutes.

Thabo, Thabiso and Moalosi are young, urban Basotho men on a mission. They travel with a mobile cinema unit through the mountains of Lesotho, screening their film to very remote communities. In a country where almost a third of the people are HIV+ they are the nucleus of a tiny group that are living openly with the virus. They are pioneers and publicly declare their HIV-positive status. They are also film stars and are attractive to women. The three young men open up in a way seldom seen on screen. This film gets to the heart of their lives and dilemmas.

Body and Soul (Melody Emmett, South Africa), 52 minutes.

HIV/AIDS is forcing religious leaders to reassess their traditional attitudes to sexuality in a country where 90% of the population claim one sort of religious affiliation or another. During the struggle against apartheid the churches played a leading role in the fight for freedom. Today millions of people are in a desperate situation because of HIV/AIDS. What role do the clergy play in this new struggle for human rights? Body &Soul looks at the attitudes of three main religions in South Africa through people on the ground who have to interpret and practice religion in terms of today 's realities.

Looking for Busi (Robin Hofmeyr, South Africa), 52 minutes.

Here is the incredible story of a fifteen-year-old 's journey to take control of her life. Abandoned by her mother when she falls pregnant, even before testing positive for HIV, she must depend on the help of extended family and friends. Life starts to look up when Busi is chosen both for a mother-to-child drug trial and to be the subject of a TV documentary. But after the television programme is aired on South African TV exposing her HIV status to the world, she disappears. Desperately worried, the filmmaker and her best friend go looking for her.

Night Stop (Licinto Azevedo, Mozambique), 52 minutes.

In central Mozambique lies the Corridor of Death, a long-distance trucking route, where more than 30% of the population are HIV+. Shot mostly at night, the film charts a series of interwoven stories about the lives of women who wait for the arrival of truck drivers at an overnight trucking station. Three groups of sex workers, the Calamities, the Students and the Founding Members, vie for business, disappearing into the drivers 'trucks, which are cheaper than renting rooms. In this world, even though condoms are distributed free by activists, you can earn more by having unprotected sex.

Simon and I (Beverly Palesa Ditsie and Nicky Newman, South Africa), 52 minutes.

Simon and I recounts the lives of two giants in the South African gay and lesbian liberation movement, Simon Nkoli and the film maker herself, Bev Ditsie. The story is narrated by Bev, both as a personal statement and a political history. Through good times and bad, their relationship is viewed against a backdrop of intense political activism and the HIV/AIDS crisis. Their converging and diverging lives, culminating in Simon 's death, are revealed in this heartfelt testament using a mixed format of interviews and archive footage.

Wa 'N Wina/Sincerely Yours (Dumisani Phakathi, South Africa, ), 52 minutes.

Filmmaker Dumisani Phakathi returns to his old neighbourhood. With a camera on his shoulder, he engages with friends to discuss relationships, sex and love. Strong characters like Phumla and Timothy expose their emotions as they talk intimately about the realities of their street and the choices they have been forced to make. It 's a rock and roll journey that reveals the gaps between everyday life and the AIDS campaigns that often talk past the very people they are supposed to address. It is the recognition of the people's will to survive in the age of AIDS.

A Miners Tale (Nic Hofmeyr and Gabriel Mondlane, Mozambique), 40 minutes.

Joachim is a migrant labourer who is torn between his responsibilities for his junior wife in South Africa and his senior wife and family in Mozambique. When visiting his home village after a long absence, he is also torn between his understanding of the responsibilities of his HIV status and what traditional society expects of him as a man. He has to make a choice: he cannot please and protect everybody at the same time. The elders are adamant that Joaquim must do his traditional duty and give his wife more children. What will he choose?

Dancing on the Edge (Karen Boswell, Mozambique), 40 minutes.

Dancing on the Edge is set in rural Mozambique, where traditional gender roles and poverty influence the fight to contain the spread of AIDS. Antonietta is HIV-positive and works as an AIDS counsellor in the city. But she takes her one healthy daughter to a remote village for initiation into sexuality. After a week of rituals and lessons on how to please a man, the daughter will become a woman and consequently be put at risk to contract HIV. Antonietta struggles with the contradictions of maintaining traditional customs while adapting to the reality of the modern world.

Mother to Child (Jane Lipman, South Africa), 40 minutes.

The prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV - the statistics, the people - come vividly to life in this astounding documentary, which follows the lives of two pregnant and HIV-positive women lucky enough to be on a drug trial at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. The film charts the lives of Pinkie and Patience as they approach the delivery of their babies. It reveals their exceptions, hopes, and inevitable fears concerning not only the health of their babies, but the trauma around the disclosure of their status to their families and partners as well.

A Fighting Spirit (Leo Phiri, Zimbabwe), 26 minutes.

A national hero turns public enemy when he confesses his tragic secret. Gilbert Josamu, Zimbabwean middle-weight boxing champion, discovered he was HIV-positive at the height of his career. Living in a society where HIV/AIDS is taboo, Josamu forged his medical certificate and continued to pursue his career. Just months before he died, Josamu finally confessed to having lived with HIV for 14 years. The public outrage that followed forced him into his toughest fight yet -the battle for acceptance. This is a story told by those who are still alive.

A Luta Continua/The Struggle Continues (Jack Lewis, South Africa) 26 minutes.

"HIV is not a death sentence!" say the HIV+ group from Khayelitsha. They tell their stories in a series of short films which are then screened at taxi ranks and shopping malls in Cape Town's townships. This powerful film about courage in the face of death includes footage of the group process, the short films themselves and their public screenings. Although they were too young to be part of the struggle against apartheid, they face a new struggle in their lifetime. They decide to call the film A Luta Continua -the struggle continues.

A Red Ribbon Around My House (Portia Rankoana, South Africa) 26 minutes.

A mother and daughter are in crisis because of their different responses to AIDS. Pinky, flamboyant and loud, lets everyone know she is HIV-positive. But her daughter, Ntombi, is battling to be just like everyone else. Her mother's courageous and touching refusal to be quiet or passive in the face of AIDS, sets them apart. Pinky acknowledges the difficulties her openness poses for her daughter, but makes no apology. Throughout it all, her sense of humour and life are apparent. We leave the film with Pinky doing what she does best -living.

Eclipse (Orlando Mesquita, Mozambique), 26 minutes.

Eclipse is a dreamlike documentary depicting the total blackout of four girls' lives, eclipsed by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It is a story about four sisters, Laura, Enguinesse, Fátima and Luisa -the oldest sixteen and the youngest nine. They are AIDS orphans living in the Mozambican town of Chimoio. Their mother died of AIDS and their father disappeared, probably to commit suicide in a nearby place of spirits. The film documents the girls' day to day struggle for existence as they try to make ends meet by re-selling produce they have bought from the market.

Heavy Traffic (Kgomotso Mastsunyane, South Africa), 26 minutes.

Shot in Soweto, Heavy Traffic shows the lives of two very different funeral parlour operators and the people who work for them. We meet Caps Pooney, who has been in the business for 50 years, and Lulu Somthumsi-Mabusela, the boss of one of many smaller operations which have proliferated in the wake of the AIDS pandemic. Uncle Caps, Lulu and their employees experience a busy week of cleaning bodies and looking for more business. Then comes Saturday and at the cemetery traffic is heavy. After each funeral, both our parties move fast. There is another body to fetch and bury.

House of Love (Cecil Moller, Namibia) 26 minutes.

Surrounded by vast expanses of desert and sea, the small Namibian harbour of Walvis Bay is the unlikely setting in which filmmaker Cecil Moller explores the lives of sex-workers. Dependent for their business on the brief visits of foreign shipping trawlers to this remote port, he women give revealing insights into the choices they have made and why they have made them. Their conflicts to do with notions of love, sex, sin and redemption become the main themes, while the threat of HIV/AIDS hangs ominously in the background.

Imiti Ikula (Sampa Kangwa and Simon Wilkie, Zambia), 26 minutes.

Memory is one of the 75 000 street kids in Lusaka, most of them orphans due to AIDS. Although she is hard, streetwise and ready to fight, she has a softer side which influences her daily living, like finding a way to watch the solar eclipse, getting her hair braided, cooking, singing and talking with her friends. She is a street child who fights for -and finds - her own identity and destiny. Vulnerable, yet strong, Memory is a compelling character.

Love in the Time of Sickness (Khalo Matabane, South Africa), 26 minutes.

At a boisterous and urbane dinner party, Khalo Matabane recounts to his friends an apparently innocent story about how he met a beautiful woman, chatted her up and started going out with her on dates. When the woman discloses her HIV status, Khalo does not see her again. The story is intercut with Khalo's examination of his own sexual history, brought up in a household of women. This film is an honest account of how the already complex nature of relating takes on new meaning in a time of sickness.

Big Balls (Heeten Bhagat, Zimbababwe), 4 minutes.

Two men are at work. One is black and the other white. They are building something together. But there is tension. Their conversation is raw, peppered with innuendo and tales of supposed conquests. As they talk they spar with words. Words that mean so little, but say so much. Funny yet devastatingly cruel. It becomes clear that those conquests will ultimately be their demise...

Choose Life (Dorothy Brislin Ntone, Mozambique), 4 minutes.

In this exuberant music video Kapa Dech, one of the best-known Mozambican bands, uses the funeral of a young man who has died of AIDS to get across their message of hope. Dressed in white, the dead man rises from the grave and tells the survivors that while they should certainly cherish and enjoy life, they also need to act responsibly in the face of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Dispel Your Attitudes (Lizo Kalipa, South Africa), 4 minutes.

Philiswa is an HIV positive woman and an activist within HIV/AIDS awareness initiatives. She fearlessly discusses the virus in a taxi ride to meet Mr. X, an HIV positive man afraid to disclose his status. He starts to explore his fears when the two meet.

Dreams of a Good Life (Bridget Pickering, South Africa), 15 minutes.

A film of laughter, fear, and the solace of sharing. Five women talk about life, love and how their dreams for the future have changed since finding out they are HIV positive. The women now examine their relationships with men more openly than ever before. A film with and about HIV+ women.

Gotta Give (Eddie Edwards, South Africa), 5 minutes.

A music video featuring Moodphase5ive and Godessa with a message for young women: take control and use your power to negotiate your relationships. This upbeat film uses a popular form to promote the empowerment of female identity.

Guilty (Francois Verster, South Africa), 15 minutes

A short experimental film that looks at issues of blame, fidelity, denial and guilt within the AIDS context. Starting with one HIV+ couple, it follows the path of sexual encounters branching ever outward. In this maze of relationships the inevitable question of responsibility becomes blurred.

Ho Ea Rona (Dumisani Phakathi, Lesotho), 17 minutes.

Ho Ea Rona (We Are Going Forward) is a short film about four friends: Thabiso was a national boxer; Thabo, known to his friends as Kwasa Kwasa, is a DJ; Bimbo, a true intellectual, is a man of short sentences; and Moalosi an AIDS activist. All four are HIV+. They meet to reflect on their lives, to cry, to reminisce - but also, most importantly, to laugh.

Lets Talk About It (Sithunyiwe Gece, South Africa), 8 minutes.

The film reflects prevailing attitudes towards HIV/AIDS in the townships of Cape Town by a filmmaker who lives there. It looks at young peoples' perceptions of HIV/AIDS and the challenges they face in practising safer sex.

Master Positive (Kelly Kowalski, Namibia), 8 minutes.

Master Positive makes cheap coffins for the poor. It's a new business, but he thinks there's a viable market considering Namibia's growing AIDS-related deaths. This short film follows Master Positive as he constructs a prototype papier-mache coffin and makes his first sale. Dealing with death in his job and confronting his own HIV status, Master Positive explains through humour and courage how he has become a true master of positive living.

Ndodii?/What Shall I Do? (Farai Matambidzanwa, Zimbabwe), 13 minutes.

Ndodii? (What shall I do?) is set in a remote village in Zimbabwe, the film depicts the impact of HIV/AIDS on the traditional practice of wife inheritance. MaMoyo, an HIV+ widow, is instructed by her elders to choose a new husband. Faced with the reality of being ostracized and blamed for her husband's death, she is challenged with the choice of breaking tradition.

Not Afraid (Carla Hoffmann, Namibia), 7 minutes.

Cathy, who is from Namibia, relates her experience as an HIV+ mother who lost her baby due to lack of access to treatment. Her message to other HIV+ women is cautionary, yet life affirming :"I'm still a human being, I'm a woman, I'm a mother, I'm myself. I can still use my hands and feet." Not afraid of death, Cathy is an inspiration for life.

That's Me (Sasha Wales Smith, Zimbabwe), 7 minutes.

In Zimbabwe President Mugabe has said that gay people are "worse than pigs or dogs". To be HIV positive on top of that is even more shameful in the eyes of society. Acceptance is the theme of this inspiring film about a young drag queen. Life with HIV can still be celebrated, he tells us, as long as you acknowledge sexuality and love the virus.

The Ball (Orlando Mesquita, Mozambique), 5 minutes.

Somewhere on a dusty soccer pitch in Mozambique, a group of boys are playing a game of soccer. Suddenly a man runs onto the field shouting. He stops the game and accuses the boys of stealing his condoms. There are different ways to use condoms. In Mozambique, young boys are great consumers of them...

The Moment (Siyabonga Makhatini, South Africa), 8 minutes.

It is the moment just before penetration . . . People from different backgrounds share their most personal thoughts about courtship and sexual behaviour in this funny and honest film.

The Sky In Her Eyes (Ouida Smit  and Madoda Ncayiyana, South Africa), 11 minutes.

Set in rural KwaZulu Natal, this poignant short film shows a young girl struggling to cope with her grief and confusion after losing her mother to AIDS. When a boy allows her to attach a picture she has drawn of her mother to his kite, this act of friendship and the shared joy of flying a kite together, makes the girl smile again.

True Friends (Bert Sonnenschein, Mozambique), 7 minutes.

A trilogy of short films using hand-made animal puppets to dramatise different issues around HIV/AIDS, making them easily accessible to young children 5 to 8 years old.

Tsoga (Sechaba Ramotoai, South Africa), 8 minutes.

A Soweto school made headlines after 70% of their students were reported to have tested HIV+. Ignorance and fear became the agents for discrimination. Years later, Joyce, an ex-learner shares her experiences of being raped as a young girl and suffering discrimination after testing HIV positive. Having overcome the challenges posed by her HIV status, she provides a source of guidance and encouragement.

II. Ombetja Yehinga

Ombetja Yehinga (which means: the Red Ribbon) is an initiative to produce short films, plays, newletters and books by and for young people containing information about sex, relationships, and HIV/AIDS. It reaches 62 schools in the Kunene, Erongo, and Khomas regions of Namibia. The following is a list of short films produced under this initiative. The annotations are taken from the website.


This film is structured like a Greek tragedy with a chorus providing direction to the protagonists, three young women named Amanda who attend school together in a small rural community called Sesfontein. Amanda 1 meets a young boy on her way to school; he tries to convince her to have an affair with him, but she does not feel ready and eventually refuses. Amanda 2 has been living with Edison for a long time. They feel ready for a commitment and discuss marriage. Amanda 3 often goes to local bars where she meets prospective sexual partners. She only gets involved with those who are ready to use a condom. The film originated from a song created in 2001 by students in the Elias Amxab Combined School, Sesfontein. It was first performed in English but is included in the film in Khoekhoegowab, the local language. It is now a well-known song in the region and is often heard at various gatherings.

Can Love Cry?

Based on a song featuring traditional rhythms that was created in 2002 by students at Braunfels Agriculture High School, this film features a traditional dance largely appreciated among young people, called the Zak. The film consists of 5 short clips, each addressing some aspect of HIV/AIDS in Namibia. In the film, Remember is a young teenager attending the isolated Braunfels Agriculture High School, which admits only boys. While Remember is walking to school with 3 friends to perform with the choir, he meets a lady in red. He seems, however, to be the only one able to see her. As the concert begins, the viewer sees images of Remember dating the young woman - but is this happening only in his dreams, or is it a dream come true? The film highlights the choices available for young people to protect themselves the role youth can play in raising awareness within their own communities, and the pain of losing parents to the disease. Can Love Cry? was launched in Windhoek and shown on national television for World AIDS Day (2002).

I Can't Imagine

This documentary features the work of a teacher at Alpha Combined School, which is located in a part of the country with a heavy population of Ovahimba people. Ovahimba have strong traditional values and customs. Most of them do not speak English and many of their children do not attend school. As a result, they are often deemed uneducated. They are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. In order to help these communities understand the threat posed by HIV/AIDS, this teacher encouraged a group of students aged 14 to 16 to create a club and to learn more about the disease. She joins this group as they visit rural communities to present facts about the disease, demonstrate the proper use of condoms, and distribute condoms. Students also create songs that they teach to the communities in an effort to create unity in the fight against the disease in this region. The song used in this film is in the local language, Otjiherero (Hina Kuripura, "I Can't Imagine"). The words are along these lines "I can't imagine the world without you, despite the AIDS pandemic."

It Is Me and You

Based on a song created in 2001 by students at Outjo Secondary School, the film has a message of hope and solidarity. The rhythm has been re-worked for the film in order to integrate it to the religious environment of the funeral that occurs. Specifically, Jones and Foxy are brother and sister. Both of their parents have died from AIDS-related illnesses. During their father's funeral, they ask themselves what will happen to them, as life seems suddenly unfair and difficult. Two of their friends, after the ceremony, respond by organising with other young people in the town of Outjo a massive awareness campaign on HIV/AIDS. They distribute condoms and pamphlets about the disease to their peers and to adults.

The Days are So Long

This film, based on a song created in 2001 by students in Outjo Secondary School, tells the story of Tasha, a student at that school. She continues engaging in sexual activity with her many boyfriends, despite the advice of her brother Pandu. One day, she discovers that she is HIV-positive and commits suicide in front of her brother. Some time later, Teddy, another student at the same school, discovers that she is also HIV-positive. She feels lonely and stigmatised. Thanks to Pandu, she will find hope and love again. The message in the song, performed by Teddy is: "Take my hand, I'm tired and lonely, Give me love, Give me hope". This song has been adopted as the slogan for the celebration of the World AIDS Day in Namibia.

Placed on the Soul Beat Africa site July 22 2003.

Last Updated February 11 2005.

III. Films from Filmmakers Library Africa

124 E. 40th Street, NY, NY 10016

The Silent Killer. Aids in South Africa (Manka Greehsel), 52 minutes.

Race Against Time: The AIDS Crisis in Africa (Canadian Broadcasting Company), 48 minutes.

AIDS in Africa (Roger Pyke), 52 minutes.

The Virus that has no Cure. (Zambia), 30 minutes.

A Closer Walk (Robert Bilheimer, South Africa, 2003).

IV. Other Films

Yesterday (Darrell Roodt, South Africa, 2004), 96 minutes Produced by Videovision.

Nkosi. The Voice of Africa's AIDS Orphans. (Danny Schechter, South Africa)

Produced by Videovision. (website

Search for Answers (Joseph Davidow, Finland), 52 minutes.

Lucia Saks is Assistant Professor in the Program in Film/Video Studies, University of Michigan. From 1997-2002, she was Senior Lecturer and Program Director, Media and Communication, University of Natal, Durban, South Africa. She completed her Ph.D. in 2001 in Cinema-Television, School of Cinema-TV, University of Southern California. Among her publications is "New Viewsites in South African Cinema", in Isabel Balseiro and Ntongela Masilela, eds., Change Reels: Film and Film Culture in South Africa. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003.

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