The Apartheid era has provided inspiration for a plethora of art forms, from literature to feature films and plays. Based on the book of the same name by João Silva and Greg Marinovich, The Bang Bang Club chronicles the daring efforts of four photojournalists – Silva and Marinovich, as well as Kevin Carter and Ken Oosterbroek – as they document South Africa in the early 90s in some of the scariest townships. It was written for the screen and directed by South African documentary-maker Steven Silver.
It is a fresh story of struggle, told from an unconventional perspective but with all the painful insight and grit it deserves. The nostalgic way in which Thokoza was captured is enough to hold the attention of the viewer for the entire duration of the film. In places, however, the movie does lose some of the power conveyed in the book. Between the uncommitted performance of leading man Ryan Phillippe, and the sometimes detached dialogue, the movie starts to feel more like a documentary. The movie also inexplicably sacrifices the individual stories of the four protagonists in favour of the more universal dilemma journalists face: to simply do their job and take the picture or to invest in the fates of the distraught people that they photograph. This is illustrated in the case of Kevin Carter and his controversial Pulitzer-winning photograph of a vulture stalking a starving child.
The news is not all bad: The Bang Bang Clubhas a satisfying amount of shining moments. The way in which the photographs from the book are recreated is organic and never requires any preface. The film also stays true to the war between Inkatha camps and ANC supporters. The tragedy that the Bang Bang Club witnessed is all there, as the film documents how their photography went from being a job to being a duty. Every South African should look past the painful accents of the two American actors and see this brilliant story of how four renegades blew the world away – armed with nothing but shutters, lenses and unflinching courage.