Wylie Writes @ Hot Docs 2014: Everything is Political

Shield and Spear (DIR. Petter Ringbom)


By: Parker Mott

“Everything is political”, a group of South African artistes extol as mantra in Shield and Spear, which has its world premiere at Hot Docs.  This saying is called, in conventional wisdom, “The Activist’s Argument”;  it also resembles Ai Weiwei’s line that “art is politics” from his documentary Never Sorry (the latest documentary on the provocative Chinese artist, The Fake Case, is also at Hot Docs).

Shield and Spear is not an involved character portrait like Never Sorry, but rather a loose mosaic of several activists who express passionate opposition to the South African president Jacob Zuma.  They rebel by exercising subversive artwork, music, and clothing styles to counteract the country’s predominant conservatism.  Writer, director, and cinematographer Petter Ringbom deserves credit for showing audiences a lens into this underground subculture, though I wonder if its ethos changed after the passing of Nelson Mandela in late 2013.

Ultimately though, Ringbom can’t coalesce his subjects’s interviews into any complex, politically motivated argument.  That’s the problem with “The Activist’s Argument”: if everything is political, then to what extent does one have to take any political action?  As a result, Shield and Spear leaves us with many inspirational platitudes and numerous montages cataloguing hip concerts and installations.  But, the journey is far too leisurely and lacks the urgency of a good political activist documentary like Under African Skies.

Catch Shield and Spear at Toronto’s Hot Docs International Film Festival on:

Sunday, April 27 at 7:00 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Tuesday, April 29 at 1:30 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Friday, May 2 at 9:30 p.m. @ ROM Theatre

Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

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