Anton Fisher might have had to wait decades for success in the film industry, but the writer and co-producer of the first short fiction film about the District Six forced removals has finally been rewarded during a significant year in his life.
“It is a huge achievement to have my first film produced in the year I turn 60 and to have it screened at two international film festivals,” he told The Saturday Star this week.
While the global health crisis has put a damper on a uniquely South African tale titled Address Unknown, ithas still garnered international attention despite restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fisher explained that the movie was shot in Cape Town last year, before the arrival of the novel coronavirus but the post-production process was delayed because of the lockdown.
Measures to curb the spread of the deadly virus has also had a significant impact on the film reaching audiences as Covid-19 restrictions have meant that gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited and that alternative ways of screening Address Unknown had to be assessed.
Despite the logistical challenges, the local movie had its world premiere at the BlackStar Film Festival in the US last month, with the South African premiere at the Durban International Film Festival set for next month.
The powerful but painful tale of the forced removals of thousands of people from the Cape Town inner city during the 1970s by the apartheid regime has already received rave reviews.
This includes former District Six postman Zain Young, whose experiences form the backdrop to the film, who cried when he watched the film.
“I was so overcome with emotion, I had to stop watching for a while,” Young said. While there are many cinematic accounts of the District Six tragedy, Fisher and his team took a different avenue this time, which he believes resonated with people from all walks of life.
“The idea of fictionalising the District Six experience is something new that has been well received,” he said. “The fictional approach moves away from the documentary retelling of known events and can explore new dimensions of the known events.”
Address Unknown is also largely based on the personal experience of Young, who Fisher interviewed extensively while he was writing the film’s script.
During the time Fisher spent with Young, he learnt, and tried to earnestly reflect in the movie, the painful reality experienced by residents during the time.
“According to Mr Young, many people left District Six without providing a forwarding address, for many different reasons, and this posed a huge challenge for the postmen who could not deliver these letters, resulting in these letters being returned to the post office and destroyed, adding insult to the injury of the forced removals.
“It could be that many former residents do not realise that letters they were supposed to receive were actually destroyed – and not just their homes.”
Despite the emotional stance Address Unknown takes as it explores the trauma of the forced removals, the injustice of apartheid and the violation of human and land rights, it also highlights the value of friendships during challenging times.
This is as the postman, played by Stefan Erasmus who also had a role in the hugely successful South African thriller series Trackers, loses contact with his childhood friend Ebie, played by Irshaad Ally from Nommer 37, during the traumatic destruction of their community.
“Joey then receives information about Ebie’s whereabouts and decides to go in search of him, despite the danger of the nationwide uprising,” explained Fisher.
Apart from the acclaimed Erasmus and Ally, the cast of Address Unknown is a star-studded local affair, which includes the likes of some of the best female South African talent.
“The entire production was led by a new cohort of young female creatives who are making their mark in the film industry,” Fisher said.
“Besides the director, Nadine Cloete (who directed and produced the documentary on late freedom fighter Ashley Kriel), the other producer is Dominique Jossie.
“The first assistant director is Roxanne Harris and the head of the art department is Sumaya Wicomb.” He added that the film’s location manager is Deidré Jantjies, who is a resident of what is left of District Six.
Because the Durban International Film Festival will be held online for the first time as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, from September 10 to September 20, Fisher is cognisant that this will be a completely new experience for cinema-goers and the response will be difficult to predict and to plan for.
But he believes that Address Unknown will be enjoyed and appreciated by those who watch it, as it is a meaningful way of keeping the memory of District Six alive.
“The forced removals that took place are as tragic as the 1976 uprising and the destruction of Sophiatown because many former residents even died from broken hearts and loneliness after they were kicked out of their homes.”
“Films such as Address Unknown and other creative interventions must continue to pose questions and jog our memory about what happened and how we are dealing with that past or not dealing with it.”