Political power confronts the dreams of a movement

REVIEW: “Behind the Rainbow” (2009)


We dream, and often our dreams fall shy of reality. “Behind the Rainbow” is a look at this common occurrence through the lens of a political movement. The African National Congress, now the ruling party of South African politics, began as a dream for equality in the racially torn country. Egyptian filmmaker Jihan El-Tahri outlines the history of the organization’s transition from a liberation movement to a governing party. How can dreams for a better life be applied as government programs? How also does power alter our original yearning?

The film itself is long and filled with narration and lots of interviews from political observers. Though history is told, the film doesn’t leave much room for viewers to just absorb the content. For curious viewers with less knowledge about South Africa, the camera could have told more of the story by simply giving us a peek into a world we don’t know.

El-Tahri follows the political careers of Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki, who were once jailmates in the struggle for freedom, as they become political rivals in the game of power. Motives become muddled and the dreams lose steam as politics takes priority.

As the lights came back up at the Cascade African Film Festival, discussion opened up and South African director John Kani (Nothing But the Truth, 2008) led out with comments in the absence of El-Tahri. He stated, “We dreamed of freedom and economic opportunity, and we got democracy.” This encompasses how I often view politics – even here in the “free” United States. Government so often fails us despite what we can collectively hope for. That is because government is made up of people, people are flawed.

Our dreams are not flawed, however. And something that stuck out to me about the film was that democracy, with its inherent flaws, was a heck of a lot better than what South Africa had before. And even though confronted with seemingly impossible dreams and temptations of power, the country does not descend into violent confrontation.

Note: Don’t miss the Portland’s Cascade African Film Festival throughout the month of February. All films are free. Visit http://www.africanfilmfestival.org/ for showtimes and locations.


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