We caught up with filmmaker Tamarin Kaplan to find out more about the documentary and the story behind it
What first attracted you to the idea of making this film… could you tell us a little about the process?
My Grandfather was from the Eastern Cape and was politically involved with the ANC during Apartheid, specifically through non-racial sport (he was Patron of the non-racial union in the Eastern Cape, KWARU). He knew the Watson brothers very well and went to watch the game at the Dan Qeqe Stadium. So, he was the one who told me the story, which I thought was incredibly fascinating and exciting but more importantly it was such an historic event that surprisingly hadn’t been documented on film before. Through my research I discovered that many people weren’t familiar with this moment in sporting history. That’s when I decided that this was a story I had to tell! Interestingly when I finally got the funding to produce the documentary, there was huge public debate at the time about the lack of non-racialism in our Springbok rugby team. It was such a relevant setting to showcase this film – it emphasized the fact that the story was still important 30 years after the actual event. So, my timing couldn’t have been better!
What do you think it is about sport that allows it to capture the political and social tensions of a particular moment in history?
I think that when sport is played on the world stage, each team represents their respective countries and so there is a lot of pride and patriotism attached to their participation, their team’s performance and how each team member behaves during a game or a match. Therefore, sport is such a powerful tool in nation building, everyone comes together to support their team, everyone is in it together, but I think in the same way that it unites people, it also has the propensity to mirror the tensions of a particular country and it can therefore divide a nation. It is such a reflection of what is happening in society. This is the case in South Africa when it comes to rugby. For many years before and especially during Apartheid, rugby was seen as the sport of the White Afrikaner. There was an enormous amount of pride from the Afrikaans community towards the sport. Therefore during Apartheid, rugby became heavily politicized as the government was resolute in segregating black and white players. What I found interesting is that the Apartheid government didn’t stop black South Africans from playing rugby; what they deemed unacceptable was black and white players on the same team. Therefore, it was an issue of non-racialism, which is why the non-racial game played at the Dan Qeqe Staduim struck at the core of the Apartheid regime and was such an important match.
Fast forward to the World Cup 1995, a year after Apartheid had officially come to an end and one realizes once again how sport can impact a nation. When you watched Chester Williams playing in the squad, when you saw black and white spectators in the stands completely united, cheering on the South African players and when you witnessed Nelson Mandela holding the cup, it was an incredibly powerful moment in history. Rugby which was such a potent symbol of segregation in sport during Apartheid, eventually became a powerful tool in cementing unity within a people.
What do you think the popular perception of rugby is in South Africa today? Is it still viewed by some as racially exclusive?
I think that we have come a long way in bridging the gap but I still feel that it is important, as with any sport, to place more emphasis on training children from a very young age in disadvantaged areas because there are still huge disparities between the training and attention giving to kids in private schools in the suburbs versus those from model C schools and township schools.
Which styles of filmmaking or individual filmmakers have influenced your work?
There are so many filmmakers that I am influenced by. I love storytellers like Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman, Mike Nichols, Alejandro González Iñárritu…I also have huge admiration for those filmmakers who produce and direct because I know how difficult it is to wear both caps and juggle the logistical elements of producing and the creative aspects of directing all at the same time.
Watch Breaking the Line on The Africa Channel on Tuesday 24th July at 9pm