OXFAM / VUE D’AFRIQUE PRIZE FOR BEST WOMEN DIRECTORS

 

“This poignant and deeply moving film bears witness to a country’s struggle for equality — and a friendship that transcends even death”
Reel Affirmations Film Festival

Distributed by: Women Make Movies and Steps For The Future

Broadcast on BBC’s Storyville    

Opening night film – Out in Africa Film Festival

Recipiant of the JAN VRIJMAN FUND (now IDFA Bertha Fund)

SIMON & I is an intimate and inspiring portrait of South African gay rights activist Simon Nkoli, who died of AIDS in 1998, and his fellow activist and protégé, Bev Ditsie.

Chronicling two remarkable decades of activism, their story charts the history of the gay and lesbian liberation movement in South Africa and presents a personal account of the devastating AIDS epidemic in Africa.

Bev unfolds their unique relationship using a mixed format of interviews, archival images and newspaper clips, while speaking honestly about the challenges they faced and the difficult issue of sexism within the gay rights movement.

Their hard work and unyielding determination moved South Africa to become the only country in the world to include sexual orientation in its constitutional Bill of Rights. A homage to a great figure in the gay and lesbian rights movement, SIMON & I is equally a tribute to an enduring friendship and bond between two remarkable leaders.

SELECTION OF FESTIVALS

  • Vues d’Afrique Festival, Montreal, Award, Best Women Directors, OXFAM prize

  • Hot Docs Documentary Film Festival, Toronto

  • IDFA (Int’l Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam), Amsterdam

  • San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

  • Chicago Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

  • Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

  • Reel Affirmations Film Festival

  • Paris Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Paris, France

  • Pride in Geneva, Switzerland

  • Africa in the Picture, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

  • Best of mixte, MK2 Hautefeuille cinema, Paris, France

  • Carrefour Association, Lormes, France (March 2004)

  • Activists tribute for the fight against Aids in Africa, National Art college, Paris, France

  • 15th « When Lesbian make cinema» festival, Trianon cinema, Paris

  • Toronto international film festival, Canada

  • Encounters Documentary Festival, Cape Town & Johannesburg

  • Out in Africa, Cape Town & Johannesburg

  • Documentaires sur Grand Ecran, Reflet Medicis cinema, Paris, France

  • Film Festival “Insights into women’s worlds”, Germany

  • proFRAU, Germany

  • South Film Festival

  • Mix Brazil

  • Festival de Cine Africano de la Crudad de Mexico, Mexicos

THE GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER 

Review by Rupert Smith

Among the human dross that passes for celebrity in 2002 it’s refreshing to be reminded of some really remarkable stories, and it’s greatly to BBC4’s credit that they picked out Simon & I to kick off a short Storyville season dealing with HIV and AIDS. “Simon” was Simon Nkoli, the sine qua non of the South African gay movement, an anti-apartheid campaigner who came out to his fellow prisoners when they were jailed without trial for three years in the late 80s. “I” was Bev Ditsie, Nkoli‚s right-hand woman, protégée and pupil, who both survived and surpassed her mentor in the struggle for gay rights in South Africa.

Theirs was a volatile friendship, recalled in snatches of amateur video and one final encounter filmed a week before Nkoli‚s death from AIDS-related illness in 1998. Nkoli, by this time, was self-obsessed, narcissistic, interested only in remembering his triumphs in the struggle, despite Ditsie’s occasional interjections (“Look! Simon, Look! That’s me) as they watched home videos together. It may have been a result of his illness, but one got the impression that his was merely an exaggeration of Nkoli’s essential self. How else would he have faced up to the macho horrors of the anti-apartheid movement or the hellfire rubbish of the religious right?

Ditsie struggled with the added burden of being a woman in a society where rape seems to be seen as the perfect end to a Saturday night out. After the first South African Gay Pride march was reported on TV in 1980, Ditsie’s Soweto home was surrounded by a gang of 20 irate men who wanted to take her out and teach her a lesson; if she wouldn’t come, they’d take her grandmother.

Despite the setbacks, these were inspiring times, never more so than when Nelson Mandela became the first world leader to announce a constitution that specifically offered legal protection to gay people. After that, their paths diverged. Nkoli focused on HIV issues, while Ditsie stood in the firing line as South Africa’s most visible lesbian. She even went on a reality TV show, a proto-Big Brother, which put an assorted bunch of South Africans in a house for six months (without prize money, as she ruefully recalled).

After some hairy encounters over the breakfast table, in which pasty-faced men with mullets told her that they used to “beat up queers”, she won them around and somehow made friends with them … this story came across loud and clear, inspiring and funny and frightening. Everything else was going to look a bit trivial compared to Simon & I.

MAIL AND GUARDIAN

By: Shaun de Waal

Among the strongest movies on this year’s gay and lesbian film festival are the documentaries . . . Another tribute to a leader from South Africa’s gay and lesbian community is Simon & I, about the late activist Simon Nkoli.

Made by Nicky Newman and Bev Ditsi, the latter a close friend of and co-leader with Nkoli in the formative years of what would be the first gay and lesbian movement in South Africa to comprehensively mobilize people of colour.

 It is, in fact, Ditsie’s own memoir of Nkoli and their sometimes fractious relationship, giving the documentary a lovely personal touch, and opening up the very human side of this key figure in the campaign for gay rights in this country. The archival footage is always interesting and the interviews add depth and humour.

EDUCATIONAL MEDIA REVIEWS ONLINE

  • Harvard College Library

  • Emory Universtiy, Atlanta, Institute for African Studies

  • Centre for Civil Society

  • Long Island University

  • South African Communications for Development (SACOD)

  • University of the Witwatersrand Gay and Lesbian Archives

  • African Studies Library, University of Cape Town

  • Queens University, Studies in National & International Development

  • Constitutional hill screening

  • Various workshops and screenings