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SanDance! cover image

SanDance! 2020


Distributed by Documentary Educational Resources, 108 Water Street, 5A, Watertown, MA 02472; 617-926-0491
Produced by One Time Films
Directed by Richard Wicksteed and Edwin Angless
Streaming, 60 mins

College - General Adult
African Studies; Anthropology; Dance

Date Entered: 06/14/2023

Reviewed by lorraine wochna, Performing Arts Librarian, African American Studies/Literature, Ohio University

SanDance! is a very compelling documentary on the San (Bushman) of Southern Africa and the practice of their dance culture. Written, directed, and narrated by Richard Wicksteed. We are taken on a journey following five different dance groups as they prepare for the yearly Kuru Dance Festival in Botswana. There is just enough narration to keep us informed, but the director leaves most of the dialog to the San people to tell their story. They tell the story with joy and love and pride in their history and traditions. The beauty, and simplicity of the film is revealed through the dances, and the intense belief they have in holding onto their ancestral traditions. This is the strongest through-line, keeping the culture alive through dance and most importantly, teaching the children to explore their cultural heritage and carry it forward.

What is not as obvious, or perhaps not foregrounded as well is the context of the San and their dances. The San people are one of, if not the, oldest surviving culture in this region, going back at least 20,000 years and the desire to keep their traditions alive is all consuming. Fascinating, this is not a world that most of us come from! Yet, we are provided enough background and history to understand the role of colonialism and its impact on indigenous communities, thereby strengthening the desire to hold onto cultural heritage and traditions.

There are many filmmakers going into indigenous communities and telling stories; and we are keenly aware that capturing these indigenous people on film could have ethical considerations. Are these people being exploited or fetishized by the camera?

Exploring Wicksteed’s background, from an anti-apartheid journalist in 1970s in South Africa to his journey as a documentary filmmaker, his work since 1990’s has focused on the San people. The tight direction and camera work pulls us into the joy of dance, music, and community building, allowing us to experience their culture. Similar films can be found in the collections of DER, Documentary Educational Resources and IDA, International Documentary Association as well as niche collections available from Alexander Street and Films on Demand.

This film would be useful for Ethnographic Studies, Dance Ethnography, African Studies, and Religious studies and is more suited to College level research.

Best Documentary, Garden Route Int Film Festival, South Africa, 2021; Award of Excellence, documentary feature, Impact Docs Award, 2021; Globe Award, ARFF, Barcelona, Spain 2021; Best Cinematography, Int'l Feature, Thin Line Festival, USA 2021

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