Film review: The Art Of Fallism- immersive film which provides searing insights and a mediation of Fallism in South Africa

The Art Of  Fallism is premiering in Africa at the 41st Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) which is online from September 10 to 20, 2020 This South African/Norwegian documentary is directed by Aslaug Aarsæther and Gunnbjørg Gunnarsdóttir and co-produced by Wisaal Abrahams (South Africa) and Ingvild Aagedal Skage (Norway). Direct booking link to DIFF: DIFF programme:

The Art Of Fallism is an uneasy film; compelling, beautifully imaged. The film features a bunch of hyper intelligent, articulate individuals who are passionate about humanity and providing space for everyone. The film transcends “political” and “history film” and that is what makes this film so powerful, for me.

When I sat down to watch The Art Of Fallism, I was expecting a political/historical documentary – tracing the trajectory of Fallist movements in South Africa which ignited in 2015: #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall and other activations. I was expecting archival footage interviews and witness reports. I was thinking of some of the so-called political documentaries I have watched recently: “This happened; that happened. Some of it was good, some it was ill advised, we know that, but we look back and we did the best, hallelujah and congrats to all of us brave men who were there and we did our best in good faith; we are not to blame; we made some mistakes, it was time, context, place.”

Here we have The Art of Fallism and I see South Africa/Norway collaboration and I think – “huh – how did a bunch of Norwegians arrive at making a film about political movements in South Africa.” The result is extraordinary. As I wrote in the introduction to my recent interview with Wisaal Abrahams – I quote myself: “This remarkable film straddles multiple genres – political, historical, narrative documentary, art film, methodology film – and more.  It is film which is intensely personal; complex and frequently uncomfortable. It embraces diversity, difference and the vital need to address dissent and give space to queer and trans perspectives which challenge binary male centred patriarchal modes which tend to dominate historical movements.” Interview link follows.

The Norwegians stumbled on reports about Falllism in SA and were intrigued. They felt that there were lessons to be learned for Norway – with the rise of the Right and racism in general. It resonated with them and they went off to South Africa. In the interview with TheCapeRobyn, Wisaal Abrahams reflects about how they connected with her and how she came on board as co-producer. Abrahams spoke about the three year journey in making the film with co-producer Ingvild Aagedal Skage, at DFM 2020 – the virtual edition of Durban Film Mart. Making the film was not an easy ride and that uneasiness comes across in the film. Abrahams said and I wrote this down as she spoke; this is the gist of it: “It was like being in a bad relationship and every day you are committed to staying together” and making it work.” It was about finding connections and between the South African and Norwegian teams and they did. There is a distinctly South African voice to this film.

It is an intensely tense film. The backdrop is beautiful Cape Town but it is blustery Cape Town, muted palette, leaves rustling. It is a jittery, uneasy undercurrent that is blowing the leaves around. Cape Town is a seductive city – from the outside and that is conveyed in the film – through the footage and the people interviewed- activists, artists, witnesses. Inside, Cape Town is a city of ruptures and it is this landscape of dissonance that the film explores- the jagged and uncomfortable – but there are flickers of accomplishment, beauty and affirmation.

The film is not set out as a linear narrative documentary. It is an intersection of documentary- narrative, witness and history oral history/account, identity and cultural politics; art film. Footage from the Fallist movements in SA is combined with art works/installation/interviews/images. For me it is a film which interrogates process – the process of making art– beyond the polemics of exclusionary politics – politics and personal. It is the processing of the genesis of the Fallist movements in SA; the constant auditing and refection, within those movements and how that manifested in the development of the movements. The imaging in this film is vivid. For instance, the film opens with a Sarah Baartman installation and then ends with the fact that UCT’s Jameson Hall was renamed Sarah Baartman.

The film makers have imaged our experience of Fallism, with prompts to reflect on individuals like Sarah (also Saartjie Baartman) who was objectified by men, shipped out of Africa and paraded as an exhibit of exotica- colonialism, patriarchy, human trafficking – plus plus. An activist goes into a candy store – and muses that ultimately anyone –irrespective of identity – sexual, gender, cultural, whatever- should be able to just enjoy the treats in a candy store.

Those kind of filmic decisions go beyond a generic documenting process. I like the ragged uneasiness of the film and its relentless commitment to revealing, rather than concealing; the challenges in the Fallist movements and the discord between individuals who were locked out by the male dominated heteronormative leadership. It is fascinating to see how people regrouped and created their own narratives. Watching coverage in mainstream media, many people would not be aware of what went on within the movements, The Art of Fallism is an essential document – documentary in its true sense – providing us with a sense of how the movements unfurled – knotted and tangled together. It is also art film – with vivid images that shift perspectives and misconceptions of Fallism in South Africa.

Direct booking link to DIFF:

Link to DIFF 2020 programme:

Image credit: Supplied.