Director’s Statement

I grew up in South Africa until 1965, when my family emigrated to Australia. Making this film with Sid and Aaron was my first return to South Africa. My mother, Sylvia Freedman, was an artist and my father, Mendy Freedman, was a medical graduate of the University of Cape Town, where Sid graduated, so I felt drawn to this film through historical connection and shared experience.

My experience in directing ‘Uncle Chatzkel’ (two AFI nominations and several international awards), a personal journey to meet my great uncle in Lithuania, was a foundation for exploring another part of my history, South Africa, albeit through another’s eyes.

The central theme is the dilemma of being a bystander and the price of not taking action. Sid’s journey with his son, Aaron, is about reviewing his past moral choices, re-evaluating his actions and investigating how other people responded to the situation. I was intrigued by Sid’s capacity to openly express his dilemmas to Aaron, who naturally questions the choices his father has made.

To a greater or lesser extent, we are all bystanders. We may oppose the government’s treatment of refugees, or we feel something should be done about indigenous health, but when it comes down to it, what do we do? Is helplessness sufficient excuse? If there are consequences of taking action, what are the consequences of doing nothing?

Sid left South Africa in 1964 at the age of twenty-three, repulsed by the country’s racist system. My early memories are similar to Sid’s. Although only fourteen when I left, I recall clearly the effects of Apartheid on all of us – the everyday injustice, the inequality of opportunity for whites and blacks and revulsion of the police state which arose to keep us, the white minority, in power. All this was complicated by a sense of helplessness to change the system and a fear of speaking out in a police state.

Like Sid, my family is Lithuanian-Jewish background, so we were not only a minority of Whites within a Black majority, but also a Jewish minority within the White English-speaking minority. Our forebears had migrated from the oppression and poverty of Eastern Europe to a land of opportunity in South Africa. Paradoxically, we became oppressors, simply because we were white.

We never felt comfortable in this role and regarded ourselves as not being part of ‘the system’. People in our neighbourhood were placed under house arrest, we knew people under indefinite detention and my father helped my uncle escape over the Botswana border because he was about to be arrested as a ‘communist’. Unable to imagine peaceful change or a future for their children, my parents opted to leave Johannesburg around the same time as Sid emigrated from Cape Town and for the same reason – we abhorred Apartheid. But to what extent did we, and fellow Jewish White South Africans, also collude with the system? Even if we all professed to disagree with the system,  we were certainly beneficiaries,.

Sid could be criticized for being a ‘bleeding heart’ and self-indulgent. He might be seen as self-righteous. But his openness attracted me. I thought he was courageous in asking challenging questions of himself, facing his past and attempting to reconcile with his colleagues and his conscience. By taking his son, Aaron, to pass on his story he was also prepared to be vulnerable.

The onscreen relationship of father and son is close, argumentative and appreciative – in other words, good television. I hope audiences will find this a challenging, relevant and ultimately, inspirational film. I want it to challenge audiences to consider their own roles as bystanders in everyday life and to consider the alternatives. How might I have acted in these circumstances and how will I act in the future?

Rod Freedman, Sydney Australia.