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Film review: Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony

Published: Friday, May 16 2003 7:49 a.m. MDT

The main point of "Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony," about how music has been used as a tool for social change, has been told many times in many films. The same goes for chronicling South Africa's policy of apartheid.

So it falls to this documentary to find a new way — or at least a slightly different one — to address both topics. Unfortunately, it's only successful part of the time. Too often, it seems a little too familiar.

But the film has its share of uplifting and emotionally satisfying moments, and the inclusion of performances by South African musicians surely makes it a must-see for die-hard fans.

"Amandla!" attempts to give a quick history lesson about apartheid, which was finally abolished in the early '90s. To that end, director Lee Hirsch interviewed several South African musicians and freedom fighters — at least a few of whom served in both capacities.

Those interviews are augmented by musical performances and archival interviews with former South African President F.W. de Klerk and his eventual successor, the long-imprisoned Nelson Mandela.

To be honest, all the talk gets a bit wearying, as do the lengthy history lessons. As a result, the audience may start wishing there was more music (though there is a quite a bit).

Fortunately, several of the interviewers have engaging personalities, such as Sifiso Ntuli, who was exiled for some of his musical "statements."

But the film's single best segment may be when the family of a slain musical dissident tries to have his body laid to rest somewhere other than the mass "pauper's cemetery" where he was originally buried.

"Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony" is rated PG-13 for archival footage of violence (including beatings and rioting suppression) and scattered use of strong profanity and some racial epithets. Running time: 101 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com