Award-winning South African screenwriter and director Craig Freimond enjoys working in comedy. He is known for films like Gums & Noses, Jozi, Material, Beyond the River and New Material. When a young actor Freimond got to know, Sibusiso Khwinana, the star of the movie Matwetwe, was murdered — over a cellphone — Craig tried to figure out how this random act of violence caused unimaginable sadness. Despite being a trauma counselor at his local police station in Johannesburg and having seen the effects of the country’s endemic crime first hand, Freimond was devastated by Sbu’s death and decided to make a documentary film. to understand why crime in South Africa is so violent. and if anything could be done about it. The result is “57” – a documentary film that attempts to answer the whys and find solutions to the country’s violent crimes. For those who would rather run for the hills than watch a film about violent crime in South Africa – the subject is treated in an entertaining and informative way with solutions offered. Freimond told BizNews he wanted to start a conversation and saw it as a call to action for society to look at the issue of violent crime in a deeper and more meaningful way. –Linda van Tilburg
The comedy was important for viewers to stick with this conversation
One of the problems we have with this movie is that we talk to people about it and they want to run screaming through the hills, rather than watch it. It is quite difficult to explain that this is not the case. Although it is punchy and emotional in places; we didn’t want to do something depressing because then what’s the point? We really decided to do something that hopefully was a little useful and that’s the word I like, because sometimes you can look at something that difficult, but at least it’s useful and in a way that gives hope.
The other reason I wanted to do this is that I generally feel there is a lack of thought on these issues. We’re very bunkered and defended because we think when I say we I’m not necessarily referring to myself, but South Africans are generally very defended on crime issues. So they tend to do it by looking over a barricade, rather than looking at it a bit more holistically or in a different way. We are a strange society in the sense of our ability to reflect on ourselves. If you look at a society like America or the UK, for example, they have multiple levels of thinking from the press to different types of press to television that deconstructs, to humor that deconstructs.
No more prison, no more police, the death penalty is not the solution to crime
This is not the solution. It is never the solution. I think Gareth Newham put it so succinctly when he said, “You can’t get out of a culture of violence by the police.” It just won’t happen. We need to look at the whole thing much more thoroughly, because also, who wants a society that perpetually locks people down? The people who are locked up are also people, brothers and cousins and sons and fathers and mothers. It’s also not a societal thing that you necessarily want. Most people who end up doing these things, it’s not necessarily their choice and the more defended we are as a society because we feel under siege, the less empathetic we are. That’s when the solutions get as violent as, let’s kill ’em, attack ’em, tie ’em up. Bring back the death penalty, stone them. I understand. The more you feel attacked, the more you attack
So the notions of empathy and understanding and how we create a different society become quite difficult to have when you feel attacked. So that’s the difficulty we have. We have a society that feels attacked, that does not feel protected. And therefore their attitude towards criminals or the way they feel about crime is very aggressive and very violent in return. While I think what’s clear is that there are much more compassionate ways to deal with these issues, but they’re more time consuming and they’re kind of longer term. But there are definitely things we should look into. Apparently there’s a growing tendency, even in South Africa, to say that the solution with these things lies much more with people like social workers than with people like the police, because the police can only intervene at the end and deal with the end product, which is the criminal when they should be backed up by systems that really keep people from becoming criminals.
How can we lock down an entire society for Covid, but do nothing against the violent crime virus?
What the hell is going on in our country? What’s going on? How did we come to this? How is it that 57 people can be murdered every day in our country? And how come it’s not an outrage? How is it that our president was able to address us so eloquently because of the pandemic, doesn’t address us every time the crime statistics come out, which killed so many more people that. How come we just accepted this idea that 20,000 people a year will be murdered in this country and no one bats an eyelid anymore. Crimes coming out, I don’t know what we should do, but we should shout; we should scream at the top of our lungs to say that it is not normal that 57 people are killed every day in our country.
I know people died from COVID and it was a terrible thing, but why did it get so much attention? Why could we lock down the whole of society but the virus that’s been in our society all day, every day that’s killing and brutalizing us – nobody even talks about it anymore. I don’t understand that throughout the whole COVID thing, I was like, Wow. So these guys can lock down an entire society. They can ban alcohol; they can ban cigarettes. These people can do almost anything, but they can’t stop gender-based violence and they can’t stop murder and they can’t stop crime. I understand that these are hard things to stop. No one denies it. But where is the drive to stop it? Where is the will to stop it? That’s the thing I don’t understand.
70% of murder victims are interpersonal crimes and they are young men
The other amazing stat from the movie is that 70% of our murders don’t even come from what you would call crime. They come from what they call interpersonal murders, where people argue and have had too much to drink and kill each other like that to me was a staggering statistic that 70% of our murders come from incidents like that.
They are always young men between the ages of 18 and 35. Alcohol is usually involved and there is a kind of argument, a kind of anger. And that also applies to GBV (gender-based violence). We use this term male rage. What is rabies? Rage is often an inability to process emotion. So your girlfriend leaves you, you feel humiliated, you feel betrayed. Whatever that feeling is, it’s not a pleasant feeling for any of us. This feeling; the processes are not there to handle this feeling properly. This feeling becomes rage. Rage becomes violence, and violence can become murder. So there is not a criminal committing this act. He is a normal person who is unable to manage complex emotions. Whenever you see those stories about that person who shot that whole family or that person who stabbed his girlfriend 25 times, you often hear people say he was the nicest guy. We knew him well. He was a lovely guy, until something happened that he couldn’t handle and it turned into murder. Now, if that’s 70% of our murders, then that’s a very, very different conversation.
Local distribution on SABC, but plans to take it to schools and internationally
With movies like this, you’re looking to bring them into the world in any way you can. SABC 3 was one of our partners and it was screened twice in South Africa. But, you know, there’s also load shedding and stuff. So we will look for other platforms to show it. We believe this is something that should be seen across the country, especially among young people. We’re looking at ways to get it to schools, screen it, have discussions about it, and try and try to start a conversation. We need to have this conversation. And yes, conversation is good, but if it ends in conversation, it’s not good. So we’re really trying to use it as a provocation and, I guess, kind of a call to action, to society, to whoever it is, to try to look at these things in a deeper and to try to find solutions that really matter, that are really effective.
We hope to put it on something like Netflix. You know, we talked to them. That’s just the starting point for us but I feel like the film would resonate too, because if you look at the world right now, the rage and particularly the male rage, the gender-based violence; these are not issues specific to us. Our murder rate is very high. Still not the highest, by the way. I think we arrive at seven or eight o’clock. I think South Americans generally tend to be above us, but we’re out there. But I also think the movie would resonate in a discussion around some of these issues, because it’s the same in a lot of places around the world that are going through very similar things, I think particularly kind of I don’t know whether post-COVID or otherwise, there is so much rage.
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