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We are in South Africa, in 1963, safe within the shells of a white society built on black oppression. But despite the brutal attentions of the security police, the outlawed African National Congress is gaining ground. As yet only a tiny minority of whites give their support to the Anti-Apartheid cause, among them Diana and Gus Roth (Barbara Hershey and Jeroen Krabbé). Like her husband, Diana is a courageous and uncompromising journalist, who openly associates with the dissidents. But when her husband is forced to go into hiding, she finds she has a little time for her daughter Molly (Jodhi May), who feels neglected as a result. It is through Molly's 13-year-old eyes that the story develops. Through preoccupied with the usual interests of a girl of her age, Molly is far from unaware of the dramatic events that encompass her life. Her parents' black friends are also her own, and she is deeply upset by her classmates' taunts that her missing father is a traitor. With her mother so often away at meetings and demonstrations, Molly's sole comfort is her best friend Yvonne (Nadine Chalmers). The harsh realities of South African life are brought home to Molly when her mother is arrested under the notorious newly inroduced 90-day detention act. Even Yvonne abandons her now – her deeply conservative parents pressure her into disassociating herself from a family seen by the neighbours as dangerous extremists. To ease the strain on her grand-mother (Yvonne Bryceland), who is looking after her younger sister, Molly becomes a boarder at school. But here again her feelings of loneliness and isolation serve only to imprison her as securely as her mother's detention in a cramped and dirty cell. Despite hellish and humiliating conditions, Diana Roth has steadfastly refused to divulge any information to the bullying security men. But the interrogations, the threats and the emotional blackmail concerning her family take their toll. Close to breaking point she is released from prison; she is immediately re-arrested for another ninety days. Diana is afraid that she will betray her allies and in the end she attempts suicide. She is released, but placed under 24-hour arrest, and is constantly harassed by the police. Now reunited with her daughters again after the long months of solitary confinement, she at least realises the depth of Molly's yearning for love. Molly, her attitudes reshaped by what she has seen for herself in the townships, begins to understand more fully the strength of her parents' con victions. Reconciled at last, they defy the authorities by attending the funeral of a black activist. As a helicopter hovers overhead, and the police fire tears gas into the crowd of mourners, they stand side by side at the grave, their arms raised aloft in a gesture of defiant solidarity – with their black comrads, with their fellow activists, and with each other.
Chris Menges is one of the leading cinematographers in Britain today, picking up two Oscars in three years for his brilliant work on The Killing Fields and The Mission. His other credits as director of photography enclude Kes, Angel, Local Hero and, most recently, Fatherland. In a career which began in the 1960s, he has worked with directors of the calibre of Ken Loach, Lindsay Anderson, Stephen Frears, Neil Jordan, Bill Forsyth and Roland Joffé. With A World Apart, his first feature film as director, his career has in a sense come full circle to reach a new beginning. During the 1960s and 1970s he shot countless documentaries all over the world, several of which he also directed. But the very first documentary he worked on, a commission for World in Action, was an exploration of the conflicts that torn South Africa apart in recent years – the theme which so poignantly suffuses the film that marks his directorial debut in the field of drama. Chris Menges has never fought shy of head-on confrontation with pressing social and political issues. But with increasing concern for those who suffer at the hands of the South Africa regime – and in spite of his attempts to muffle their voices through severe censorships and draconian reporting restrictions – Chris Menges believes A World Apart will be seen as a vital contribution to their struggle.
Hans Zimmer pioneered the use of state-of-the-art synthesisers and computer technology for creating film scores. Among many other credits, he is the composer responsible for the haunting music from Moonlighting, Castaway and My Beautiful Laundrette. Most recently, he has worked on the soundtrack of Bertolucci's masterpiece The Last Emperor.
South Africa is a land of extreme wealth for the white minority, and extreme poverty and destitution for the oppressed black majority. It is the only society in the world which discriminates in all its laws on the basis of race-apartheid. In South Africa, Apartheid denies the black population their most elementary human rights. They do not have the right to live where they choose or the right to enjoy family life. Under Apartheid, the majority of South Africans have been robbed of their birthright to land. Over 3.5 million people have been resettled. Apartheid has been declared by the United Nations as a crime against humanity. Apartheid is a form of violence that operates, every moment of every day, to perpetuate a white monopoly of economic power. In South Africa, thousends, hundreds of thousands of people have perished under the Apartheid system, and because of it. In the months following mass protests against Apartheid in June 1976, an estimated 1000 children were slaughtered. The African National Congress was formed in 1912 to defend the rights of the African people. For thirty-seven years it adhered strictly to a constitutional struggle, in the belief that African grievances could be settled trough peaceful discussion. But the succession of white governments remained unmoved, and the rights of the African diminished. In 1960 there was the massacre of Sharpeville which resulted in the first proclamation of a state of emergency, and of the declaration of the African National Congress as an unlawful organisation. The ANC went underground. In July 1963, the security police raided a house in Johannesburg which was used as the underground head-quarters of the freedom struggle. In what subsequently became known as the Riviona trial, Nelson Mandela (who is 70 years old on 18 July 1988) and his associates wee sentenced to terms of life imprisonment. This is the political background and the specific context of A World Apart.
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