TCFF Documentary Spotlight: ‘Word Of Honour: Reclaiming Mandela’s Promise’ + Interview with director Kiersten Dunbar Chace

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One of my most anticipated TCFF documentaries is playing today and I can’t be more thrilled that I got a chance to connect with the filmmaker to talk about her film. I always love films that immerse me into a world that’s far away from where I live, and gives me a chance to learn a bit more about the struggles they are facing. A large spectrum of the South African population includes the indigenous, Asian, European, Indonesian, Phillipino, Indian of India, and many others. In the Western world, we mostly hear about the Black/White struggle in South Africa, but nothing about the minority ‘Coloured’ people, as they’re called in that region.


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kierstenchaceKiersten Dunbar Chace (Producer, Director, Editor) founder of Chace Studios/Mondé World Films, is an award winning indie film producer/director and human rights activist/advocate who for the past 21 years has focused her lens on South Africa. In 2009, Chace produced her first feature length documentary film I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured – Identity Crisis at the Cape of Good Hope which explored the legacy of apartheid from the viewpoint of the Cape Coloured people. The film won an Audience Choice award at the Africa World Documentary Film Festival (Bermuda Int’l Film Festival) and was featured at several US, International Film Festivals and in over 60 major Universities. In September 2014, Chace’s film was one of two selected to present at the prestigious academic conference Migrating the Black Body: Visual Arts and the African Diaspora in Hanover Germany. Her role in the conference will be documented in the upcoming book by the same name.

Most recently, Kiersten was invited to be an observer at the United Nations in Geneva in September 2015 when a Shadow Report was presented/submitted to the Int’l Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination citing South Africa as being in violation of the UN CERD treaty/convention. The film was used as a supplemental neutral piece to help educate UN members on the history of the Coloured people of South Africa.

A documentary film that gives voice to a community questioning the future of their mixed-race/indigenous identity in the new South Africa. Blending poetry, landscape imagery, and rare archive footage with a collection of powerful, indigenous voices, Word of Honour is an introspective look into South Africa’s young democracy as well as a meditation on what may be looming on the horizon. (All South African cast and crew)

TCFF screening: Sunday | October 23 – 3:45pm
Runtime: 73 min

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Q: What inspired you to become a documentary filmmaker?

My inspiration was South Africa. In 1995, I helped produce a US concert tour for the popular South African vocal group the Christian Explainers. During that tour, one of young women in the group, in a somewhat fearful confession, shared a secret with me “Kiersten, in my country I am not considered black, I am Coloured.” Like many Americans I was stunned by her use of the term Coloured, but she kindly requested that I maintain an open mind. That was not a difficult task, however, with that open mind I felt this so-called secret would have been a great opportunity to educate Americans about the absurdity and injustice of the apartheid system; beyond the black/white rhetoric perpetuated by Western media. It also saddened me that they had to endure and maintain this awkward situation of telling people they were black South Africans, when culturally and linguistically they were not. Their reasons were centered around the use of the term Coloured in America and they were also embracing and putting into motion Mandela’s promise that they were now part of the majority alongside black/Nguni South Africans. So over the course of the next two weeks Suzanne shared the rich culture and history of her people and I listened closely with great interest.

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“Danny Brown, Elsie’s River” – Image Credit: Kiersten Dunbar Chace

Soon after that 1995 concert tour, I was invited to South Africa to visit Suzanne and my other friends. It was on that trip that I began learning more about this community and culture and for the next 5 years I traveled across South Africa meeting various non-profits and developing new friendships. In 2000, I began organizing group cultural tours to South Africa including Open Arms of Minnesota’s first visit, which ultimately led to the development of an HIV/Aid’s nutrition program at the new JL Zwane Center in Gugulethu. No matter how hard I tried to explain the history and culture of coloured South Africans, Americans were always drawn into the exotic tribal cultures of Southern Africa which are the common images portrayed of the African continent in Western media. I learned quickly that Americans don’t want to travel to South Africa to be visually reminded of impoverished communities in their own backyard per se, and that is the image they see when looking at Coloured townships.

Ten years’ post-apartheid, 2004, I organized another American tour group to South Africa. It was on that particular journey that I recognized how quickly the Coloured communities were deteriorating structurally and economically. Foreign investments and donations targeting disadvantaged communities were not filtering into Coloured townships due to their lack of knowledge and various government agencies bypassing Coloured townships. It was then that I knew I had to step up and educate the globe about this community and their existence. To accomplish this, I chose film as my instrument for change.

Knowing very little about the film industry, I went to Daniel Pierce Bergin in 2007, a senior producer at TPT/PBS in Minnesota and asked for his mentorship. His support of my project propelled my confidence greatly. He also connected me with a monthly event called Docuclub at IFP Minnesota where I met the talented Producer and Director Melody Gilbert, who gifted me and many other aspiring filmmakers in the Twin Cities with her years of documentary film knowledge. She gave me the tools and insight I needed to be a documentary filmmaker and in 2009, I release my first feature length film I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured: Identity Crisis at the Cape of Good Hope.

"Freedom Farm Informal Settlement" – Image Credit: Kiersten Dunbar Chace
“Freedom Farm Informal Settlement” – Image Credit: Kiersten Dunbar Chace

Q: How was your background as a humanitarian activist play a part in getting this film made?

After the completion of my first film I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured in 2009, I was surprised at its impact not only in South Africa but other mixed-race communities around the globe, academia and the United Nations. For example, in 2011, a Non-Profit organization in Johannesburg, South Africa used the film to petition the South Africa Broadcast Company to ask them to invest in Coloured television and radio programming. In 2014 I was invited to screen the film at a private academic conference in Hanover Germany ‘Migrating the Black Body: Visual Arts in the African Diaspora’ where 30 top professors gathered to present their academic research papers. Nearly half of the conference attendees were not aware this community even existed. I also learned that several universities over the years altered their curriculum to include this film. And in 2015, I was invited to participate as a human rights observer at the United Nations in Geneva where the film was used to educate UN rapporteurs. It is my goal to return to Switzerland again in March 2017 with the Advocates for Human Rights based in Minneapolis for additional UN training.

Through these experiences and the continual movement of my first film, I came to realize that my role as a human rights advocate was materializing before my eyes, unexpectedly. There is no doubt that these experiences along with the support of community leaders in South Africa gave me the confidence and motivation to produce Word of Honour. So yes, my human rights activism played a major role in this latest production.

Q: ‘Word of Honour’ is a sequel to your 2009 film… it is extremely rare to see a documentary sequel, would you speak about the differences between the two?

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Image Credit: Antoni Commodore

I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured: Identity Crisis at the Cape of Good Hope (filmed in 2007/2008) explored the legacy of apartheid from the viewpoint of the mixed-race/indigenous Cape Coloured/Khoisan people of South Africa, whose largest population resides in Cape Town (approximately 60% of the total population). After 10 years of witnessing the decline of this community and trying to teach Americans about a marginalized people who identified themselves by the term Coloured, I focused the film on history and identity.

The film also illuminated their diverse ancestry, how they suffered (180 years of slavery and a vast number of forced removals), and their contributions to South African society dating back to the mid 17th century to the dawn of democracy in 1994. So INBIC was historically driven and educational. That film won an audience award at the Africa World Documentary Film Festival in Bermuda, sits on the shelves of nearly 63 major universities around the globe.

My latest film, Word of Honour: Reclaiming Mandela’s Promise, focuses on the first 21 years of democracy – post 1994. It is less historical and more focused on the socio-economic struggles and the marginalization of this community due to discriminatory government policies. It features communities all across South Africa, not just Cape Town. In addition to the difference in storyline, the production value of Word of Honour is much greater and it is structured differently. More artistic yet the focus remains on the voice of the people.

You are correct. It is very rare to produce a documentary sequel. But as I mentioned before, my purpose for entering the film industry was for advocacy purposes, not awards, and as you will witness in this new production, clearly my work was not completed within South Africa. Especially after viewing Jimmy Manyi’s public statement in 2011 about Coloureds being ‘over concentrated’ and ‘should spread in the rest of the country if they want jobs’ my friends, community leaders and myself, became very concerned. Hence the making of Word of Honour. Since I already had a decent university presence with the first film I wanted to continue the dialogue around race, identity and human rights. With the two films together, we have created a more holistic perspective, identified and exposed the root of the problem, and documented a specific time in history that will last for generations.

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Q: What motivated you to shine a light on the complexities in identity/ history of the people in South Africa?

There are a lot of misperceptions about South African history internationally and within South Africa. As recent as 2015, trial attorneys who were attempting to justify their client’s discriminatory practices, claimed that coloured South Africans did not suffer as much under apartheid and should not benefit from Affirmative Action policies. This depends on how you define apartheid. Many scholars will argue that the system of apartheid was implemented the moment the Dutch arrived in South Africa and formally legalized in 1948. But others will argue the opposite and define apartheid as only starting in 1948. So it was important for me to focus on history as it relates to their identity, how this community evolved, what they endured and as reflected in this new film their struggle to fit in the new South Africa.

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Q: How many people did you end up interviewing for your film? (Vast area that is covers)

For 21 years, I have developed friendships with community leaders, business leaders and political activists all across South Africa. In our discussions, each person was very adamant in sharing their regions unique needs; that their struggles were very different from Cape Town (the largest population of Coloured’s in South Africa). Combine those strong regional or provincial sentiments alongside a lack of unity nationally amongst their leaders, I personally wanted to see if the socio-economic issues facing the coloured communities were different between the various provinces and townships. In the past, I had travelled across South Africa but with a very different purpose. So to observe the country from behind a camera lens with the intent to further educate the globe about this community, including South Africans, I wanted to see if I could capture the similarities versus the differences as well as affirm or nullify the psyche of disunity that seems to be embedded in national rhetoric amongst community leaders.

So our film journey included six of the nine provinces, thirteen cities, drove approximately 7000 km’s, interviewed 27 people and brought home close to 200 hours of footage. All but one of our production locations was pre-planned and budgeted. That one unplanned ‘spur of the moment’ location was Riemvasmaak, a tiny desert community near the Namibian/South African border where we literally knew nothing about this area historically or culturally, nor did we know a single soul who lived there. However, what we captured in 3 short hours (in the middle of the desert) ended up being one of my favorite scenes in the film and possibly one of the most important in terms of using an historical event as a reflection of what the future might be for this community if government policies continue on the path of racial quotas.

Q: Would you share a bit about your collaboration with David Grant, a prominent figure in MN arts/film/writing?

davidgrantI actually met David through a shared interest in genetic genealogy five or six years ago. I was the founder of the Cape Coloured DNA project at Family Tree DNA and we were introduced by a distant blood cousin from Arizona who also shared similar DNA with one of my former cast members in South Africa. Soon thereafter I learned of his gift for writing as well as his respected presence in the Twin Cities arts community. After one long breakfast meeting in South Minneapolis, I knew this was the person I needed to collaborate with.

With Word of Honour, I was taking a riskier more creative approach to my storytelling. I didn’t want this project to be cookie cutter journalistic type documentary film so I searched for someone who would take my artistic vision and goals and help build the storyline. With an arsenal of powerful poetry, rare Mandela footage, great interviews and beautiful landscape imagery I needed someone to help create a piece that made people think outside the box and engage the heart. Being a seasoned writer David understood all of these important elements and was instrumental in guiding me through some difficult storyline and structural decisions.

Q: Who have been some of the people who’ve inspired you, both in term of history/culture or cinema. Any documentarian whose work you admire?

I’m a great admirer of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films and books. He inspired me in my artistic direction, to not be afraid of taking risks and to be confident in your artistic expression. Not everyone will like your work but in the end you were staying true to the vision or your film. Another person who inspires me is Al Milgrom. A longtime friend and walking encyclopedia of film. Our long conversations and his passion for film inspired me greatly.

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“Near Polokwane” – Image Credit: Kiersten Dunbar Chace

Q: While traveling around South Africa, what was your greatest take-away from this production in comparison to your other journeys 20 years ago?

There were actually several key take-away’s on this journey but the greatest would be discovering how many Coloured communities across South Africa endured forced removals. I knew of District Six, South End and Sophiatown but I was stunned how many others there were. Nearly every major city in South Africa, including small villages, has a history of forcibly removing Coloured communities.

On a more positive note, I was encouraged by the economic progress in the Eastern Cape province near Mandela’s Qunu home where I spent some time back in the early 2000’s. This was a pretty impoverished area back then but today that has changed. The energy there was uplifting. I just wish I could say the same thing about ‘one’ coloured township, sadly it does not exist.


Thank you Kiersten for taking the time for the interview!

For more info on the film, please visit Word Of Honour‘s official site.


Spotlight on 10 great documentaries – and they’re all playing at 2016 TCFF!

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Just a few days aways until the seventh Twin Cities Film Fest begins on October 19! The 11-day cinematic marathon, running October 19 – October 29, will showcase 100+ films. It’s definitely great to be a film lover living in Minneapolis!

I’ve blogged about some of the films I’m super excited about, but I wanted to talk about the documentaries specifically, as year after year TCFF has always featured great documentaries that are both insightful and entertaining. Before I get to the list, check out the TCFF documentary promo:


Have you gotten your tickets yet? They are selling fast, in fact when I went to the SHOWPLACE ICON THEATRE in St. Louis Park this weekend, the seats are really picked over so don’t delay.

Get your tickets soon!
Click on each documentary title that’ll take you to its respective page on TCFF site.


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Here they are in alphabetical order:

Actors of Sound w/ Boom Up

  • October 29, 2016 10:15 am
  • Runtime: 112 min

Director/Producer: Lalo Molina

ACTORS OF SOUND: From footsteps to bone cracks, Foley artists bring films to life with their imaginative sound effects.

I always love learning about the various aspects of filmmaking and foley artists are one of the unsung heroes in the filmmaking process. This sounds like a fun insights into a world we rarely see, but one we’d definitely notice if not done properly.


Beyond The Thrill w/ The Unrelenting Charlie Davies

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  • October 24, 2016 5:15 pm
  • Runtime: 76 min

Director: Jason P. Schumacher

Skydiving isn’t just a hobby, but a sport and a lifestyle. These unique athletes compete in the relatively unknown world of competitive skydiving. The Unrelenting Charlie Davies: Charlie Davies was the most promising young striker in professional American soccer until a fatal car accident in October 2009 derailed his career and threatened his life.

I’m afraid of heights so skydiving is one of those bucket-list type of activities I wish I could do one day. But I always get a kick out of living vicariously through people who dared to do these kinds of extreme sports. This one offers something inspiring beyond just the thrill of the sport, and that’s what a great documentary should be about.


The Eagle Huntress

  • October 24, 2016 6:15 pm

Director: Otto Bell
Runtime: 101 min

The Eagle Huntress follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter. Narrated by Daisy Ridley.

I didn’t know there is such a thing as an eagle huntress, so this film immediately intrigues me. Per IMDbStar Wars: The Force Awakens star Daisy Ridley saw an early cut of this film and loved it so much that she wanted to be a part of it. She is now credited as an executive producer on the film. No doubt this will be an eye-opening and awe-inspiring glimpse into an exotic part of world we rarely see.


Free Cece

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  • October 29, 2016 2:45 pm
  • October 29, 2016 3:15 pm

Director: Jacqueline Gares
Runtime: 87 min

CeCe McDonald survived a brutal attack, only to be incarcerated for defending her life. After an international movement to free her, CeCe emerges as a leader to interrogate the prison industrial complex and inspire women to fight back when attacked.

lavernecoxThe title isn’t just a name of the film but also the call to action for a movement sparked by the incarceration of CeCe McDonald. Following her release, McDonald became an activist for prison reform and against transphobia. Orange Is the New Black star and activist Laverne Cox is the executive producer of the film and she’ll be attending TCFF and participates in the A Q&A session following the two screenings at 2:45 and 3:15 p.m. on 10/29. As timely as ever, the film highlights the struggles trans women face in prison, a topic I’m not familiar with but an important one to learn and support.


I Do?

  • October 26, 2016 8:45 pm
  • October 20, 2016 7:05 pm
  • October 26, 2016 4:20 pm

Director:Joe Brandmeier
Runtime:79 min

A light-hearted documentary on the “crazy” concept of marriage.

As someone who’s been happily married for over a decade, I don’t know if I’d call the concept of marriage as ‘crazy.’ But of course not every marriage is alike and some of the stories would likely resonate with people, no matter what their definition of marriage is. It’s interesting to note that the filmmaker Joe Brandmeier was inspired by his own marriage to former Minneapolis Kare 11 anchor Joan Steffend to make this doc (per Star Tribune).


In Pursuit of Silence

  • October 22, 2016 10:30 am
  • October 20, 2016 5:05 pm

Director: Patrick Shen
Runtime: 81 min

In our race towards modernity, amidst all the technological innovation and the rapid growth of our cities, silence is now quickly passing into legend. Beginning with an ode to John Cage’s seminal silent composition 4’33”, the sights and sounds of this film delicately interweave with silence to create a contemplative and cinematic experience that works its way through frantic minds and into the quiet spaces of hearts. As much a work of devotion as it is a documentary, In Pursuit of Silence is a meditative exploration of our relationship with silence, sound, and the impact of noise on our lives.

It’s so true that silence has become a lost art in our increasingly noisy and bustling world. I know I find myself struggle to just be still and turn off all the ‘chatter,’ so this is a film that I know will challenge me to look at silence and how it impacts my own life.


Iron Will

  • October 22, 2016 7:15 pm
  • October 22, 2016 7:30 pm

Director: Sergio Valenzuela
Runtime: 120 min

IRON WILL is a journey into the minds and lives of Veterans suffering with some form of (PTSD). Narrated by Billy Bob Thornton.


I’m glad that TCFF’s social cause this year is in support of veteran health as it’s such an important issue that impact so many people who’ve given their lives to keep our country safe. PTSD is another topic I’m not familiar with, so I always welcome the opportunity to learn a bit more about it.


My Scientology Movie

  • October 28, 2016 12:45 pm
  • October 21, 2016 5:15 pm

Director: John Dower
Runtime: 99 min

Louis documents his investigation into what goes on behind the scenes of the infamous church of scientology.

One of the documentaries on scientology I still need to see is Alex Gibney’s Going Clear, but I’m curious about the unconventional approach of this one. British documentarian/ broadcaster Louis Theroux features young actors “auditioning” for parts playing high-profile Scientologists. I’d imagine it’d be a hoot to watch the recreation of accounts from ex-members about incidents involving senior church management. It’s certainly a wacky way to get people to understand the way this religious practice operates.


Prison Dogs

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  • October 26, 2016 2:30 pm
  • October 22, 2016 5:15 pm

Director: Perri Peltz and Geeta Gandbhir
Runtime: 72 min

A story of love, loss, and redemption; Prison Dogs focuses on the impact of a unique dog training program that gives two of the most marginalized populations in our society, —prison inmates and veterans, —a second chance.

I love the idea of giving incarcerated people find a path to a second chance at life through their love and care of a puppy. The powerful relationship between humans and animals have proven to help restore the lives of those deemed impossible to save, no doubt it’ll be a heart-wrenching and moving film to experience. I have to remember to bring tissues to this one!


Word of Honour: Reclaiming Mandela’s Promise

  • October 23, 2016 3:45 pm

Director: Kiersten Dunbar Chace
Runtime: 73 min

A documentary film that gives voice to a community questioning the future of their mixed-race/indigenous identity in the new South Africa. Blending poetry, landscape imagery, and rare archive footage with a collection of powerful, indigenous voices, Word of Honour is an introspective look into South Africa’s young democracy as well as a meditation on what may be looming on the horizon. (All South African cast and crew)

This is a rare documentary in that it’s a sequel to the filmmaker’s 2009 film I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured: Identity Crisis at the Cape of Good Hope, which explores the legacy of Apartheid from the viewpoint of the Cape Coloured people and their struggle as a mixed-race people to fit into the ‘new’ South Africa. Once again I look forward to learning more about the racial issue that people in the western world (including me who’ve lived in the US for more than half of my lifetime) have known so little about. We mostly hear about the Black/White struggle in South Africa, but nothing about the minority Coloured community.

Stay tuned for my interview with Kiersten Dunbar Chace that’ll be published next week!


Thoughts on any of these docs? Which one(s) caught your interest?