The camera has the power to tell many stories—it focuses on poverty from a bus window, on crowds gathered at a political meeting from above, on grunting rugby players in a scrum from beneath, or on the underside of a huge plane flying over a rugby ground with ‘Good Luck Bokke’ written on its undercarriage.
Narrative perspective and characterisation are achieved via camera angles and script. Close-up face shots of Mandela appear often in the film to show his emotions, or - as in his speech to the National Sports Council (Sc. 7, 00:30:00) - to enable the viewer to listen to his words. In many scenes his alone-ness is shown by the mise en scene; for instance at 01:00:30, the light shining on Mandela at his desk emphasises how hard he is working and how alone he is.
Slow motion and dolly shots are used in the rugby scenes, with the speed getting slower as the tension of battle increases during the final World Cup game; low angle shots in the scrums. Real footage is used to emphasise the documentary nature of the film and convince viewers of its ‘truth’, as in the opening montage and the final photographs.
Hand-held camera shots create dramatic tension, especially when inside the action in a rugby game. Music plays a vital role in guiding viewer response to the plot and to actions of the characters.
Mirroring, repetition and doubling are evident in a range of scenes and used for a variety of purposes. The most obvious doubling and mirroring are in the depictions of Nelson Mandela and François Pieannar. Close-up camera shots compare and contrast their feelings as leaders, as does the dialogue, particularly in the scene when Mandela asks Pienaar to take tea with him.
Parallel editing is used to create interest and dramatic tension; the opening sequence works to offer a quick summary of events that background Mandela’s release from prison, of the conflicting responses of South Africans to his becoming President, and the vast gulf of inequality as exemplified in the sports facilities of rich white school boys and poor black teenagers. The camera returns frequently to the developing relationship between the little boy Sipho and the policemen; the subplot which unfolds over the course of this sequence of shots works metaphorically to emphasise the message about the power of sport to unite most ‘foes’.
Multiple subplots add complexity to the biography of Mandela and to build the viewer’s trust in its authenticity. The narrative of these sub-plots is developed concurrently through the use of parallel editing. Sub-plots include the growing sense of shared goals in the black and white members of Mandela’s security team, the anger of black ANC supporters at Mandela’s decisions to not exact revenge on white institutions of the apartheid regime, the poverty of young blacks such as the little boy Sipho, the growing pride of black servants such as Eunice who works for the Pienaar household, Nelson Mandela’s political balancing act between his national and international roles, and his pleasure in female company.
From VATE Inside texts 2017, Part 2, Marion White [ed.], Faye Crossman [teaching notes], Victorian Association for the teaching of English, 2016, pp. 11-12.