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The Yorker at LIFF 32: The State Against Mandela


Nicolas Champeaux and Gilles Porte use newly available audio recordings and animated graphics to reconstruct a dramatic apartheid-era court case.

Although I’m aware of the many documentaries about Nelson Mandela I’m yet to have seen many myself and so I’m unable to compare it to any of the work that proceeds it. However, what I can say is that I did find this documentary enlightening. It explored the hours of tapes that were recorded of Mandela’s trial, prior to his 27-year arrest. With no visual recordings to accompany the tapes the film dramatizes the words with this incredible sandbox animation. Although this kind of animation is no longer completely original, it is still beautifully captivating to watch.

This is then intertwined with interviews from the men accompanying Mandela, along with a few surviving relatives. It was fascinating to hear from the other men who were named in the plot that led to the life imprisonment sentence, a group who I was previously unaware of.

Despite this obviously fascinating subject matter I did unfortunately find the film to be slightly slow in places. But having said this, it’s the first film I’ve seen that really forced me to feel the length of time Mandela was wrongfully imprisoned for. Previously I had obviously felt astonished by it but had not fully acknowledged or analysed this timeframe. We see him enter a young man and return an aged one. I feel ashamed to say that I hadn’t given it much more time than a news bulletin but watching this documentary gave me a real drive to want to research this period, and incredible man, more intensely. It bought something that felt like history sharply back into focus.


For this reason, it’s worth a watch solely for the final few scenes. Having been led through the incredible, yet heart breaking story that leaves you ultimately enraged, we follow one of the surviving men into a reunion with some of the other men who were still alive. As Trump plays on the TV in the background we’re reminded how terrifyingly relevant the story we’ve just seen is today. We’re reminded, painfully, that this isn’t history. This isn’t in the past. And although we may have the illusion of equality, that is in fact far from the truth.


The Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF) takes place every year from the 1st to the 15th of November. The best films of the year from all around the world are exclusively screened there before their official releases! Check it here.