Wednesday, September 10, 2014

'Plot for Peace' Documentary Offers Perspective on SA's Transition

An interview with the filmmaker Mandy Jacobson, working under the Ichikowitz Foundation.
 by Joey Legodi

Mandy Jacobson, Winnie Madikizela Mandela and Stephen Smith
Jean-Yves Ollivier leads the narrative of this documentary into an African maze. His lens gives focus to Plot for Peace.

At 17-years-old, Ollivier and one million other French nationals left their homeland Algeria after the country’s 1962 independence. During his first visit to South Africa in 1981, he recognised a similar fate – white inhabitants ‘sleepwalking to the brink of disaster.’ To avoid them being ‘thrown into the sea,’ a peaceful negotiation to the end of racial discrimination and segregation was necessary.

In exclusive interviews, several former heads of state - Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo - and several other key figures such as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of apartheid “Pik” Botha, the icon of the resistance Winnie Mandela of South Africa, the right arm of Fidel Castro in Africa Jorge Risquet, and the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Chester Crocker - father of “constructive engagement” – vividly retrace crucial events leading up to the fall of apartheid. An exchange of prisoners between six states and armed movements at war with each other resulted in the Brazzaville Protocol, signed in December 1988. The following regional peace paved the way for the release of Nelson Mandela.

Plot for Peace is a more than an historical documentary. An award-winning international team has combined images, interviews and archival footage in an innovative and emotional way. Instead of relying on a third-party voiceover, conversations in English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Afrikaans weave a factual and subjective plot - a human drama, and a documentary of personal triumph and inspiration.

Below is an interview with filmmaker Mandy Jacobson about this important documentary.

What is the Ichikowitz Foundation?

The Ichikowitz Family Foundation mandate is to spread the good news about Africa by promoting understanding about our complex history, building self-belief and confidence among Africans through storytelling and innovation.

The Foundation’s African Oral History Archive (AOHA) initiative aims to safeguard Africa’s dynamic heritage for future generations. In a global effort, over 150 interviews have been recorded, giving unprecedented access to all those who have been instrumental in shaping South Africa’s modern history. The Archive charts the incremental changes, revolutions, setbacks and victories in Africa’s complex history and brings these stories to audiences across the globe

The Ichikowitz Family Foundation believes that knowledge about ourselves — our identity as a nation — depends on our understanding of our past and how others see us. It enables the African Oral History Archive to provide specialist content across all forms of media, from the African continent, to the globe.

Ivor Ichikowitz, Chairman of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation notes: “The inspiration for this film emerged from hundreds of hours of original testimony around the liberation of South Africa gathered by the African Oral History Archive and demonstrates the importance of gathering original testimony from the players of the time. Subscribing to best journalistic practice, AOHA adopts no single point of view; but rather, provides the raw material for open story telling, the hallmark of democratic societies. Redemption is found through remembering."

For the Celebrating Twenty Years of Democracy initiative, a six-part series called Rainbow Makers marks this historic event and will be shown on SABC during Heritage Month in September 2014.

The African Oral History Archive is an initiative under the foundation. What motivated the launch of the African Oral history Archive (AOHA) initiative?

Much of our history was politically sensitive, or subversive; some of it has remained hidden, even forgotten. So AOHA was created as a global effort to record and showcase the continent’s acclaimed or unknown history makers, giving unprecedented access to all those who were at the heart of events that shaped Africa’s modern history. These narratives are the entry points for us, young and old, to embark on the journey to know our past. We also want to pay tribute to champions that led the way towards the 20 Years of South African Democracy we enjoy today.

What does it aim to achieve? What are its main goals?

Oral history is first‐hand evidence of the past and we put the human face and drama to the complex stories. We believe in diversity as a force for democracy and encourage dialogue as a means of building reconciliation.

  • To tell stories about our complex history and allow for open dialogue and interrogation of our many histories presented.
  • To preserve our heritage by telling the untold stories.
  • Among other pressing concerns are the fading memories and sheer mortality of those who were involved.
  • To promote public access to these multi-media resources. We wish to encourage our younger generation to learn from our past and recognize that by learning these lessons we create a more creative and productive future

Plot for Peace is the first of a series of political and historical documentaries by AOHA. What is Plot for Peace all about?

Plot for Peace is a thrilling film about the untold story behind the secret events leading up to the end of apartheid and ultimately the release of Nelson Mandela. The film follows the story of a Jean-Yves Ollivier and makes his story come to life through exclusive interviews with various leaders who witnessed his secret hand towards the end of apartheid.

Plot for Peace has won 8 awards including best international film at the 25th Galway Film Festival. Ivor Ichikowitz had mentioned on SAfm that the film has been launched on the international circuit and has had tremendous success. What do you attribute the success to?

The film is unique and shares an untold story about various pieces of South Africa’s heritage. There are archives that have never been seen before, and have been showcased for the first time in South Africa to tell a powerful story. Audiences enjoy stories that present the action as it if was happening and all those featured in the story are the real players. There are no experts or second hand witnesses. We have succeeded in making history engaging, and not merely presented a history lesson.

What has the response been from South Africans? And foreigners?

This mysterious man intrigues all audiences and his behind the scenes deal dins. Its a world we don't typically have access to and so it s feels like a John le Carr thriller.

Jean Yves Ollivier, the protagonist of Plot for Peace, said of the South African audience:

“Our JHB launch last night was extraordinary; to have Winnie Mandela and Pik Botha on the panel after the screening, together with Mathews Phosa and even Wynand du Toit. It was a historic night for me and very emotional, because during my efforts in the late 1980′s these people were enemies. And to see them hugging afterwards reminds me that reconciliation is possible and that all the efforts we made, inside South Africa and outside South Africa meant something special to us all.”

As one audience member said after the screening:

“To see former enemies, Pik Botha and Winnie Madikezela hugging. To be reminded of so much past history, to experience some of it firsthand. Indeed a proudly South African moment"

What does such achievement mean to the foundation and AOHA?

It shows that there is an interest for African stories. People want to learn more about their heritage and the heritage of others.

The African Oral History Archive sees film as more than just a one-way transmission. Our mission is to create podiums of discourse, promote conversations and in the process develop a market base for distribution of ours stories.

Our vision reflects the values of a democratic, dynamic, integrated and creative African society. Many of our projects bring people from different backgrounds to work together and to learn about each other's heritage, hence creating a shared sense of local pride.

What is it about the documentary that you think sets it apart from the rest?

The exclusive, never-seen-before interviews with African icons set it apart. African leaders like former President of Mozambique Joachim Chissano and Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso.  And the fact that the film reveals a piece of the many pieces that make up South African history.

It is a story that has never been told before.

One could say there have been so many films / documentaries documenting our history in SA, our history as it relates to our struggle; would you say there is still room for more productions reflecting on our struggle to freedom? 

There is always a lot of room for more storytellers to explore our road to democracy. And indeed even beyond democracy.  There is a series of events that led to freedom and various stories that need to be told to show a holistic picture. Our films, coming to SABC 2 in September, aim to tell some of the many stories that needs to be told.

What lessons can be learnt from Plot for Peace? Or what lessons have you learnt from the production of Plot for Peace?

I learned about a chapter of our history I had no idea about, and I learned about a world of diplomacy that we never have access to. The secret world of parallel diplomacy that does not involve ideology, that is not burdened by political dogma.

Jean Yves Olliver’s story reminds us about the personal values that make up politics and that the art of negotiation requires basic human values of tolerance and listening and trust. These are universal tools that all conflicts require.

Tell us a bit more about the team that put the documentary together? And the process that was undertaken to put it all together?

Mandy Jacobson, producer and co-director of Plot for Peace, leads the African Oral History project, financed by the non-profit organization the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, whose aim is to research and divulge contemporary South African History through multi-media formats. In recent years they have interviewed hundreds of people who were involved in the political change in South Africa. Many of these interviewees mentioned a mysterious character - “Monsieur Jacques” - who seemed to be working in the shadows in several seemingly unrelated events.

With the help of archive researcher Nhlanhla Mthethwa, Mandy finally found some footage from a South African newscast in the 80s in which “Monsieur Jacques” was being awarded after coordinating an exchange involving 250 prisoners and 9 countries. The filmmaker managed to track down Jean-Yves Ollivier - “Mr. Jacques'” real name - and convince him to tell his story. In order to reach the broadest audience, Mandy decided to put together an international crew, among them Spanish director and editor Carlos Agull√≥, script writer and historical advisor Stephen Smith and many other professionals from various countries. The result is a documentary selected and awarded at numerous international festivals and released in commercial cinemas so far in France, the United Kingdom, USA and Spain.

For people who are interested in seeing the documentary, which other platforms are available for them to do so? 

The film was on circuit at selected cinemas in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Limpopo and Cape Town. Plot for Peace will be broadcast again on SABC 2 alongside three of our other films namely; Ten Year Tight Rope, A Tribute to Frontline States and The Foreign Minister. The broadcast of these films start on 14 September through to 5 October 2014.

Why is it important for South Africans particularly, but also for anyone to go see Plot for Peace? 

This film and the other films produced by the African Oral History Archive, add a different layer to the heritage of South Africa. They challenge the viewer to interrogate their heritage, ‘Do they really know all there is to know’? Our project aims to give new meaning to heritage itself: people from every walk of life are encouraged to dialogue with the heritage, making choices about what inspires them, what they want to keep and share from the past, for future generations.

What more can be expected from the Ichikowitz Foundation’s AOHA initiatives?

  • We have the Twenty Years of Democracy series on SABC 2 in September and are looking into getting the films into schools.
  • We are partnering with other Heritage stakeholders to create a coordinated portal for all the public to engage with this material; to devise innovative education activities in partnership with community groups, schools, and colleges, creating new spaces for safe, enjoyable enlightenment
  • We invest in all kinds of heritage that is not only based on buildings, collections and landscapes but also focus on the intangible: histories, memories and languages and customs, our hopes and dreams.
  • We also help to make archives’ collections more accessible through cataloguing, digitisation, and outreach programs.

How can people get in touch with the Foundation AOHA?

  • You can visit for everything relating to the Foundation
  • for specific Plot for Peace information
  • @Ichikowitz is the Twitter handle for the Foundation
  • @Plotforpeace is the Twitter handle for the film (national and international)
  • We can also be found on Facebook