Black History Month continues to make milestones. And February 25 may be the greatest.
Milestone Films is proud to announce the deluxe DVD and Blu-Ray releases of Lionel Rogosin’s 1959 shattering classic Come Back, Africa. After witnessing fascism firsthand as a soldier in World War II, Rogosin vowed to fight it wherever and whenever he saw it reemerging. In an effort to expose “what people try to avoid seeing,” Rogosin travelled to South Africa and secretly filmed Come Back, Africa under the constant threat of being discovered. When released, the film revealed to the world the cruelty and injustice suffered by the black majority under apartheid.
It's powerful. Martin Scorsese says that Come Back, Africa is "a heroic film … a film of terrible beauty, of the ongoing life it captured and of the spirit embodied by Rogosin and his fellow artists.”
Much of Come Back, Africa was filmed in Sophiatown, a black ghetto and a vibrant center of music, art, literature and politics. Residents included Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Father Trevor Huddleston, Hugh Masekela and four of the film’s main contributors–Drum Magazine’s author/journalists Bloke Modisane, Lewis N’kosi and Can Themba along with the already celebrated singer, Miriam Makeba. Even as they filmed, the township’s future was under threat. Shortly after production ended, Sophiatown was forcibly emptied, then razed and rebuilt as a whites-only suburb called Triumf.
In making Come Back, Africa, Rogosin’s goal was to reveal the harsh injustice of apartheid. To make a film that honestly and accurately portrayed life in Sophiatown (as he did with New York skid row inhabitants in his first film, On the Bowery), the filmmaker spent almost a year meeting with activists and writers, both black and white. Rogosin cast the film before writing the screenplay, basing the story on the experiences of the cast and crew. The actors created their own dialogue in order to create an authentic representation of their lives. Even 55 years later, the film seems emotionally raw and immediate.
Taking its name from the title of an African National Congress slogan, Come Back, Africa premiered at the 1960 Venice Film Festival where it won the Critics Award. In 2012, Milestone released the restored 35mm prints of Come Back, Africa across the US and Canada to rave reviews from the press and universal acclaim by the audience. Bonus features for the film include the remarkable An American in Sophiatown, a documentary by Lionel’s son, Michael Rogosin; and Have You Seen Drum Recently?, by Jürgen Schadeberg, the renowned photographer/filmmaker who, as the staff photographer for Drum Magazine in the 1950s, took some the very first photographs of the young Nelson Mandela.
In the second feature of the deluxe set, Rogosin took the fight for equality to his homeland with his astonishing and powerful fourth feature Black Roots. The film, which is ripe for rediscovery, features an extraordinary cast, including Reverend Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick; attorney and feminist activist Florynce "Flo" Kennedy; and musicians Jim Collier, Wende Smith, Larry Johnson and Reverend Gary Davis. All tell stories of heartbreak and despair while their songs blow the roof off the rafters. In an extension of the famed shebeen scenes in Come Back, Africa, the participants in Black Roots spoke openly about politics and race in a way that is still rarely seen on screen. In 1970, it was a radical and daring move by a great director. A deeply humanist film, Black Roots combines tales of oppression with hauntingly beautiful images of the faces of black men, women and children. The home DVD and Blu-ray of Come Back, Africa: The Films of Lionel Rogosin,Volume 2 is a two-disc boxed set featuring:
Come Back, Africa. South Africa. 1959, 86 minutes. Restoration Cineteca del Comune di Bologna. From the 2K Restoration. SDH subtitles.
A Martin Scorsese Introduction. 2 minutes.
An American in Sophiatown: The making of Come Back, Africa. Directed by Michael Rogosin and Lloyd Ross. 64 minutes.
Lionel Rogosin talks about Come Back, Africa. Radio Interview, 1978, 19 minutes.
Come Back, Africa. Theatrical Trailer. 2 minutes.
Black Roots. United States. 1970, 63 minutes. Restoration Cineteca del Comune di Bologna. From the 2K Restoration. SDH subtitles.
Bitter Sweet Stories. Directed by Michael Rogosin. 27 minutes. Color/B&W. Documentary on the making of Black Roots.
Have You Seen Drum Recently? Directed by Jürgen Schadeberg. 1989, 74 minutes.