KIng Surfer

Posted January 30, 2009 in
Sanza Hanza (King Surfer)

Dir: Nadia Hallgren

The ghetto of Soweto outside of Johannesburg offers only one way out: the freedom of surfing on trains. This documentary short focuses on a band of young men named V.I.R.U.S (Very Intelligent Riders Usually Survive) in the largest ghetto in South Africa, population: 1 million. They find emancipation on the rails by either running alongside or on the tops of trains. Think Slumgdog Millionaire style with less hustling and post apartheid poverty. These cats do it for love of the game. They even refer to it as a sport, albeit a deadly one, even as they recount how one of their mates was there one second and dead the next.

The cinematography, courtesy Hallgren (Fahrenheit 9/11), is well framed and puts the viewer into the faces of the young men as they literally run between life and death. They do it for one reason as a young man nicknamed Tupac explains with a sneer, life is “bullshit� in Soweto and surfing the trains is a brief respite from the reality of the situation. Admittedly, I was unaware of this slum’s existence, and seeing the men as they vie for the title Sanza Hanza (Zulu for King Surfer), simply because they have no other options, is a sobering, enlightening and exhilarating experience.

5 out of 5 *s

by Jon Paxton