The miracle of Lionel Rogosin’s apartheid drama Come Back, Africa isn’t that it’s a solid, affecting artifact of a cruel society, but that it exists at all.
“Four Stars! Come Back, Africa is a work of amazing grace—and a forgotten treasure.” -Sam Adams, Time Out New York
After a recent conversation with Susan Weeks Coulter, chairwoman of the Global Film Initiative, whose Global Lens series is currently in full swing at MoMA before a cross-country tour, my mind—in a humanitarian, can-do state—wandered to recent cinema history. Where has cinema caused change to happen, to move the needle in the name of progress? When was the last time this occurred—not a polite discussion, but real social and political change?
I found myself coming back to these prodding questions upon a recent viewing Lionel Rogosin’s second feature “Come Back, Africa” (1959). The film, which aesthetically works as a blend of pioneer documentarian Robert Flaherty and Italian neorealist Vittorio De Sica, exposes the jaw-dropping racism and social injustice that has victimized black South Africans under the apartheid government since its enactment in 1948….
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At a film festival, hundreds of films flow by—a relentless river of images—and this viewer sometimes struggles to keep his head above the flood. But I drink the extra macchiato and forgo sleep just to discover the one or two films that will leave me with a feeling of wonder, a sense of greatness. When I heard the film’s co-author Lewis N’kosi introduce Lionel Rogosin’s 1959 anti-apartheid film Come Back, Africa (starring Zacharia Mgabi and Miriam Makeba), I had the feeling that this would be one of the films that make me love my job. I was at a Cinema Ritrovato outdoor screening in Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore and N’kosi’s magnificent voice and words echoed on the ancient buildings surrounding the square. I remember thinking: “This is the kind of film Milestone has to distribute.”…
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