Cinema, identity and legacy: Honours students showcase creative treatment of history

Posted on December 06, 2023

As teaching and learning at the University of Pretoria (UP) for 2023 draws to an end, the GES 715 honours students showcased the various films they have been working on since the beginning of the academic year. The group of four students each explored a sector of history that was informed by rigorous research and training under the guidance of Dr Nisa Paleker. At the film screening, attended by the students, their family and friends, as well as colleagues and lecturers, including Professor Harris (Head of Department) and Professor Sandy Africa (Acting Dean: Faculty of Humanities). Professor Harris stated that the module is one of a kind in South Africa and the students who have taken this module continue to thrive and produce spectacular work.

The screening of the GES 715 Honours student documentaries on the 30th of November, 2023, indicates the groundbreaking work that takes place within UP’s Historical and Heritage Studies Department. The freedom afforded to the Honours students in the process of production not only allowed for a dynamic presentation of historical analysis but also a diverse one, as shown by the films, which included: Soutie: The Identity Politics of the English South African by Natalie Fish. The film explored the complexities of the South African identity across three generations of the same family. Each member's context differed drastically, as did their perception of what it meant to be a South African. Boitshoko Mboweni’s film Conflict at the Crossroads of Bophuthatswana addressed issues of historical legacy and the complexity of historical actors after their passing. In Fokofpolisiekar: Vehicle for Afrikaner Identity?, a film by Zané Oosthuizen, the renegotiation of Afrikaner identity is explored. This film analyses the impact of art on identity creation through the examination of Fokofpolisiekar’s music on youth perception of Afrikaner cultural identity. Ink and Venom: The Story of Eugène Marais by Henry Stone is a biographical documentary about the South African polymath Eugène Marais. Examining the intrigue and mystery surrounding Marais as an Afrikaner folk hero, the film narrates his life story.

Each film finds its roots in the weekly lectures of the module. For students who are film enthusiasts, it's a platform to delve into the depths of history in cinema—analysing, researching, and presenting a wide array of historical films. The module’s theoretical aspect is a trip through time, exploring historical epics about classical antiquity to biopics on modern figures. Engaging in numerous discussions and debates during classes hones students' perceptions of the nuances of presenting history on screen. This prepares them to brainstorm, plan, and ultimately create their short films.

The module and screening of the Honours documentaries reflect the creativity and dynamism of the Historical and Heritage Studies Department. Not only have the Honours students learned how to analyse history on film, but they have engaged with the creation and representation of history in film. This module continues to create holistically skilled historians, allowing them to explore the varied career options in film, media and journalism. 

- Author Boitshoko Mboweni, Henry Stone, Natalie Fish and Zané Oosthuizen

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