An immortalisation of how the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu inspired South Africa to be a society where peace could prevail.
In her documentary, A Tree Has Fallen – Remembering Desmond Tutu, Swedish journalist Marika Griehsel shows the religious stance of the late Anglican archbishop on a politically-fragmented apartheid South Africa.
A compilation of archive material and interviews, this documentary is not only focused on the apartheid past but also includes present-day footage of children being asked to identify the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Its focus is on comparing the type of South Africa he imagined at the dawn of democracy to what the citizens are currently experiencing.
Tutu is famously known for the quote, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” from a speech given at Stanford University on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1986. In the documentary he is introduced to the viewer as a liberal Christian – he applied the teachings of the religion based on social needs rather than what is traditionally taught, such as staying strong in one’s faith and prayer while waiting for a miracle from God.
In A Tree Has Fallen, Tutu describes himself as someone who became a leader by default because the political leaders at the time were in exile. Griehsel does a good job reflecting this statement in reality by showing the viewer Tutu’s transition from standing in front of a pulpit at church to standing at a podium at political rallies, yet still in his Anglican church attire.
Through Tutu’s statements such as, “No human being is beyond the love of God,” Griehsel shows the viewer how the imagination of a “rainbow nation” – coined by Tutu for the post-apartheid multiracial South Africa – began as not only a call to unite all races but also Africans in their diversity.
In an apartheid society where Africans in South Africa were divided along tribal lines and by political affiliation, Tutu is shown emerging as a non-political, pro-peace preacher to the people of South Africa. This is coupled with some parts of an interview by the same producer of this documentary, Griehsel, done on behalf of the Nobel Foundation.
On Tuesday, April 25, 2023, at the Wits school of arts cinema, students and staff members had an exclusive chance to see the documentary before its unknown release. Griehsel told Wits Vuvuzela, “I think he is one of our times’ most inspiring leaders, like Nelson Mandela.”
Griehsel does well in visualising the close friendship between Tutu and the former president in the documentary. The use of close-up shots on footage of them holding hands after Mandela was released from prison; footage of their meeting during their pension years and multiple clips that have Tutu referring to Mandela are used as great indicators to the type of friendship they had. In one of the clips, Tutu is caught on camera referring to Mandela in a humorous way: “…he has a poor taste in shirts.”
In the Wits Vuvuzela interview, Griehsel continued to say, “I am very grateful that I was allowed to screen the film [at Wits] and I hope that it will inspire young people and those who have seen [the film] to ask themselves: ‘What can I do?’ ‘What is my role?’”
According to Griehsel, the compilation and production of the documentary began in 2001. With the help of a South African editor and principal photographer, Michael Jaspan, it screened for the first time at the September 2022 Göteborg Book Fair in Sweden.
Vuvu rating: 8/10
FEATURED IMAGE: Pictured at the screening of the Tutu documentary, on the second row, left, Minister Counsellor of the Embassy of Sweden in Pretoria, Christian Fogelstrom, and in front, the producer of the documentary, Marika Griehsel. Photo: Michael Jaspan
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