Directed by Mirissa Neff, steeped in never-before-seen Super 8 footage, journeying into the kaleidoscopic world of an outlaw multiracial rock band, in apartheid-era South Africa, whose members battled a racist system to taste freedom.
Trying to tackle the history of a band when it’s blended with history, race and culture in just over an hour is not an easy thing to do but This is National Wake makes it work. It would have been interesting to see it take even more time to dive deeper but it uses the time it has well. Which ultimately boils down to being able to flawlessly weave through the different aspects to the story and that’s what it does. The flow feels very much dictated by the music, there’s a surprising relaxing quality to it in the way that it moves. It progresses at an even pace, it’s not throwing too much at you and develops in a natural manner.
Living in today’s world, despite the fact there is continually a never ending battle against racial prejudice and injustice, it’s still almost shocking to think of the far reaching consequences of apartheid. Particularly when the film discusses interracial relationships, the sheer lengths that people would have to go to, to not only protect themselves but simply support one another, is horrifying. It’s not an easy conversation to tackle in this time frame and that’s why it’s a clever choice on Mirissa Neff’s part to not let it take over the entire film. It has a huge part to play and it’s given that weight but this is a larger story about the band, as well as the political issues.
Another element which is always appreciated in band documentaries is being able to go in cold, knowing absolutely nothing about them and you certainly could with this one. The way that it tells their story goes through a number of different emotions ranging from the warmth of their sincere dedication to a genuine sadness. It’s a short but worthy journey and it’s made more impactful by the footage. There’s already the hugely satisfying nostalgia factor when you’re dealing with the 1970s, and having such candidly shot content enhances that further. It’s balanced nicely with its talking heads, they’re used almost sparingly, letting the footage take more of the lead so you can fall more into the time period rather than simply thinking of it through a modern perspective.
This is National Wake embodies the creative talents and artistic nature to its subjects. It moves with rhythm and blends the different elements to this story well. Never spending too much time on one aspect, gracefully moving between its themes. It’s an interesting insight with a great use of vintage footage mixed with talking heads, to give a modern view without losing the feel of the 1970s.