Sea Point Days
Alongside the southernmost urban centre in Africa, separating city from ocean, lies an unusual strip of land. The Sea Point Promenade - and the public swimming pools at its centre - forms a space unlike any other in Cape Town. Right here, slightly away from the hustle and bustle of the business area, life is most paraded most unapologetically in all its forms... Over-made-up power-walkers speed past homeless persons kissing above the rocks and rent boys waiting for the next pick-up. Trendy teenagers eat ice creams as elderly ladies parade dejected pet dogs on elastic leashes. Black, brown, white, young, old, locals, tourists, rich, poor, Jews, Muslims, Christians, stylish, tasteless – they are all here, arriving from apparently nowhere to join the ritual of walking a man-made path along the sea...
At the core of the Promenade lies the Sea Point Pavilion, a complex of municipal pools built over a large landscaped lawn during the 1920s. Those that go there regularly will adamantly insist that this is “the best pool in the world”. If the Promenade is the place where people from all walks of life parade their identities, the Pool is where these are, in a sense, levelled. As clothes are removed, bodies of all shapes and hues are openly on display – and different races come into close bodily- contact. Bloated pink bodies splash close to small brown ones, visiting European models lie topless on towels close to carefully clad Muslim women overseeing family picnics underneath the stinkwood trees.
Even in the not-so-New South Africa, the type of proximity and interchange amongst very different people found on the Promenade and at the Pool is unique. Personal and interpersonal identities are still far from clear in this country – and here they seem to be negotiated in unusual ways on a daily basis. In this everyman’s land between ocean and city, the most bizarre and unexpected things happen every day.
Using innovative film language, quirky charm and a combination of film formats, this essayistic and often visionary film captures not only the societal blend particular to this part of Cape Town - but also the conflicts and difficulties underlying it. Intimate and original vignettes alternate with powerful scenic shots, archive footage and observations of life, all leading towards a comprehensive and surprising view on what it means to be South African right now...
We meet Law, a young boy who has been evicted from his home with his mother and loves nothing more than rapping and out-dancing the blind man on the street. We listen to Abdoeragiem Field, the filtration man at the Pool, as he explains the life lessons he has learnt from water. We follow JP Smith, the ward councilor and head of the campaign to reform Sea Point, as he leads the middle-aged members of the Yellow Bib Campaign walking about the streets, Maltese poodles in tow, staring down prostitutes, drug dealers and homeless people. He is drunkenly accosted and told off by homeless person and street philosopher Aubrey Ruiters – yet he also elaborates the political complexities around the area. Jean Jacoby, an almost-blind granny living at and old-age home on the end of the Promenade, happily attends concerts and exercise programmes, reflects on a long fulfilled life. Kaiser and Xoliswa, two street-savvy pool guards, reflect on the black experience of South Africa today and reveal white patrons’ prejudices. Marleen Steinberg, who lives in the apartment building overlooking the pool, believes that she no longer has a place in this country.
The landscape is further set by thousands of Muslim men praying together before spotting the first moon after Ramadan. An octogenarian lady sings Yiddish cabaret songs underneath the shower. Through these and more, we experience on the one hand the sheer joy and energy of a place that is brimming with possibility, humanity and great beauty - and on the other, the troubled social forces and ongoing pain that could still push the Sea Point Promenade and Pool in any direction...
SEA POINT DAYS presents a fresh and compelling vision of South Africa through an extraordinary public space in a time of transition. It is a film that explores memory, nostalgia, identity, and the right not only to space but also to belonging and happiness.
Festivals & prix
Official Selection, Toronto International Film Festival 2008
Joris Ivens Competition, IDFA 2008
Competition Selection, Dubai International Film Festival 2008
Best Editor, Doc NZ 2009
Finalist, Best Cinematography Category Doc NZ 2009
Competition Selection, FCAT 2009
Competition Selection, One World Human Rights Film Festival 2009
BigPond Adelaide Film Festival 2009
Planete Doc Review 2009
Jerusalem International Film Festival 2009
Durban International Film Festival 2009
Encounters Documentary Film Festival 2009
Festival de Granada Cines del Sur 2009
Munich International Film Festival 2009
Dockanema Film Festival 2009
Guth Gafa International Documentary Festival 2009
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Revue de presse
SEAPOINT DAYS was originally conceived as a project called LIFE IN COLOUR, which hoped to look at social (and largely racial) relations and perceptions in South Africa through the medium of static, relatively unmediated cinematic tableaux. I visit the Sea Point municipal pools (and promenade) almost every day during the summer, and it seemed progressively more obvious to me that most of the issues I was hoping to explore could be accessed within the confines of this public space – hence, the project was reborn in its current form at the end of 2004.
At a thematic level, the film deals partly with racial, social, religious and power relations, identity and perceptions in the not-so-new South Africa as experienced or displayed in a transformed public space. It naturally, then, looks at how these are experienced and negotiated by a white person like myself – or, significantly, the elderly white inhabitants of the area. Over the production period, it became very clear that the film would look not only at the rising black South African middle class (and at the possibility of a multiracial society) but also at how white people are negotiating feelings of responsibility and guilt about past and present, and how they are conceiving their own future in the country. The unique physical space approached by the film allows observation, exploration and reflection on these issues – all the more so because it is the one place that black Capetonian’s keep up as an example of exclusion during Apartheid years.
As filmmaker who has almost exclusively made films about ‘coloured’ or black people, working with white subjects was an often uncomfortable experience. Quite basic questions came up, such as, Can I feel part of their world? Are they allowed to speak about happiness in a world that has been so destructive for so many? Can I be happy with them? How valid is a white voice? What could an authentic white voice be? Importantly, then, the film tries to explore whether there is scope for a form of ‘salvation’ in the form of a white voice that is authentic and not immediately rejected, precious, spoilt, guilt-ridden, arrogant, blind or pathetic – in short, one that is aware of the past and present, yet purposeful and useful.
But the film also, however, entails a celebration of an unusual, magical publics pace: one that not only actively reflects curious and entertaining social and racial dynamics, but also one that is simply beautiful, interesting and filmic. As with every other visitor, there seems to be a story to tell every time I go there: a question, perhaps, of people being unrestrained by cars or security gates and for once being unselfconscious in living out daily habits and rituals... and also of being able to look in ways that are not usually allowed. In a very real way, this film embodies inspiration for finding hope, rest and peace within an often difficult and conflicted urban society.
Originally, the film consciously set out to explore the possibility of happiness in South Africa (something which this space seemed to offer) – but it soon proved that such a quest leads to endlessly layered and complex results... In a sense, the film as it turned out deals more with the intersections amongst race, class, beauty, anxiety, spirituality, happiness, identity than about those themes in particular. Each chapter is subtly weighted towards specific themes – but all the other themes are also always present – the film tries to “dislocate” over-subscribed debates about these themes by situating them in a cinematic, emotional and unexpected context. I have tried to use the medium of film itself to give voice more deeply to the contradictions of being South African than I would be able to in a more discursive film or other medium.The film tries, with little direct interference from the director, to use apparently everyday material in a more abstract, indeterminate philosophical meditation, one in which the real is transfigured into something else. It is both far more personal than any other film I have made (I think that most of my own interests, processes and anxieties are somehow present in the progression through the film) and one in which meanings are consciously indeterminate, albeit located in a broadly humanist framework. What I enjoy about it is how it manages to avoid being tied to any particular subject or issue: for example, it seems to deal with the Sea Point pool and promenade, but is actually about far more than that – or, it seems to deal with race and class relations, but somehow travels beyond those.
I still have to get some distance from it before I can give any vaguely objective judgment, but I feel that I have made a leap in my own filmmaking in terms of being able to step away from the strict confines of theme, character and/or narrative. I suspect that the film is not going to be to everyone’s liking – but that those who are perceptive to what it attempts to do will have an experience that opens up unexpected new thoughts, emotions and insights into what it means to be South African today.
Francois Verster, August 2008