Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela
Time Out says
Here’s something of a miracle: an intensely personal yet historically expansive docudrama that exhibits few of the deficits of genre mixing or cinematic self-analysis. As if that weren’t enough, the humane, aesthetically assured Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela all but rescues the early anti-apartheid movement from death by deification.
Framed as a record of Bronx-born writer-director Thomas Allen Harris’s tempestuous relationship with his recently deceased South African stepfather, Benjamin Pule Leinaeng (Lee for short), Twelve Disciples diverges into a wide-ranging and exhaustive retracing of Lee’s path to exile in the States. Harris uses lively interviews with his own family and Lee’s friends and fellow ANC members (the disciples of the title) to flesh out the activist’s early life, as well as effective, subtly staged re-creations of the group’s various struggles, setbacks and successes. By the time Harris’s involvement in the story surfaces via home-movie footage and an increasingly confessional narration, the inclusion feels earned rather than intrusive or self-indulgent. The result is a complex, rousing portrait of a political movement defined as much by personal motives as by collective effort, with its pioneers—like Harris himself—unable to mask their nostalgia for a rebellious past, while taking pride in having secured a livable present. (Now playing; BAM.) — Mark Holcomb