“I have two grandfathers,” proclaims a Cuban poet in Casa de la Música, “one white and one black.” Casa director Jonathan de Vries and spry, gravel-voiced Cape Town jazzman Robbie Jansen follow the South African diasporic route to Cuba, where the charismatic horn man blows with musicians of African-derived traditions. More home video than Buena Vista-style hagiography, the film takes on a giddy energy as Jansen becomes invested in the collaborative exchange of his improv sessions.
“Ten Years of Freedom,” with 43 films screening to mark the anniversary of Mandela’s 1994 election, seeks to provide a cross-section of a country so often discussed in single-issue terms. Alongside fiction features like Soldiers of the Rock, a rough-hewn story of gold miners chafing against exploitation, music docs include A Lion’s Trail, the story of the purloined tune “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”; Sophiatown, a reminiscence on ’50s Cape Town jazz; and last year’s celebratory Amandla! Several AIDS documentaries, the groundbreaking “Three Amigos” condom PSA, and disease-conscious Sesame Street puppetry fill out a slate anchored by Wa’N Wina, Dumisani Phakathi’s check-in with township pals coping with poverty, crime, and HIV.
A fest highlight that complements recent reconciliation films from Rwanda and Cambodia, The Guguletu Seven follows a riveting post-election investigation of the deaths of seven black men accused of ambushing police. As events unfold, it becomes evident that freedom to engage in the process of rigorous jurisprudence and respectful open discussion is as crucial as uncovering the truth of the events in question. And in that context, the “Ten Years” festival itself seems a component of the ongoing healing.