on March 21, 1997 by Lea Russo
  &#160Making a brilliant documentary often brings out the worst in filmmakers. They must push their subjects past the boiling point, stick their camera where it isn't wanted, and challenge the preconceived notions of their subject. Yet, if they don't take those risks, they're in danger of generating a mediocre product or, as in the case of "Mandela" directors Jo Menell and Angus Gibson, creating propaganda.
  &#160A surface exploration of the turbulent life of South African President Nelson Mandela, the documentary begins at the humble village of Qunu where the Nobel Peace Prize winner was born and raised. Using a combination of old news footage and present-day interviews, the filmmakers piece together Mandela's past, from his days as a lawyer and cofounder of the ANC Youth League to his rise to power, 27-year imprisonment, and 1994 election as president. At best, the film serves as a great timeline of Mandela's life. It's what's missing from "Mandela" that's the problem. The filmmakers avoid political discussions of any kind and refuse to question anything. As a result, the film seems like a promotional campaign rather than a truthful account. It might indeed be the truth, yet we have nothing to base it against. There are no opposing viewpoints here, and none of Mandela's enemies are interviewed. There's not even a historian to put it all into objective perspective. Even as the filmmakers glorify Mandela to God-like status, they pretend not to. They show him, for example, in the bathroom shaving, as if proximity equals intimacy. This scene is meant to portray Mandela as an average man, but it actually reveals nothing of his true character--just like the movie. Directed by Jo Menell and Angus Gibson. Produced by Jonathan Demme, Edward Saxon and Jo Menell. A Manga release. Documentary. Running time: 119 min. Nominated for best documentary Oscar.
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