Freedom Square and Back of the Moon

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Screening Details

Running Time: 53 min. (Colour, with Black and White sequences) / Copyright Date: 1987 / Language: English / Genre: Documentary


In the 1940s and 1950s, Sophiatown, a black freehold suburb on the outskirts of Johannesburg, was the centre of a vibrant cultural and political world. For various reasons, including its proximity to white areas, it was singled out as a target of the newly elected government's apartheid policies. Consequently, its inhabitants were moved out and their houses were bulldozed. On its ruins arose the new all-white suburb of Triomf. This film tells the story of these early forced removals and, in the process, sketches a picture of daily life in Sophiatown. Using interviews with former inhabitants, from journalists to ex-gangsters, it builds up a composite portrait, intercutting their observations with archival footage, still photographs and excerpts from The Magic Garden and Come Back, Africa, as well as extracts from the Junction Avenue Theatre Company's play, Sophiatown. Amongst those who comment are Arthur Maimane, Anthony Sampson, Don Mattera, Trevor Huddleston, Nadine Gordimer, Fikile Bam and Joe Mogotsi.


The original Back o' the Moon (aka Back of the Moon) was a 1950s shebeen in Sophiatown and the title Back of the Moon was used for the name of a song sung by Miriam Makeba in the stage musical King Kong, as well as the title and metaphoric setting of a 2019 feature film directed by Angus Gibson.

Co-director William Kentridge was one of the founders of the Junction Avenue Theatre Company that created and performed the play Sophiatown, first produced at the Market Theatre in February 1986.

The documentary was shown at the 1987 Weekly Mail Film Festival and the following year at the Durban International Film Festival. In 2019 it met with popular acclaim when it was screened at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.


Production Company: Free Film-makers for Channel Four / Producer & Editor: Angus Gibson / Directors: William Kentridge & Angus Gibson / Cinematography: Dewald Aukema / Camera: Edwin Wes, Patrick Shai, Pam Laxen & Charles Morale / Sound: Tony Bensusan & Arthur Molepo.


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