One of the Best Documentaries No One Has Heard Of - 'Strike a Rock'
by Alex Billington
August 27, 2018
"The people, they were forgotten, and we suffered most of all." There's a superb documentary titled Strike a Rock that still hasn't been officially released, even though it is one of the best documentaries around. Made by a South African filmmaker named Aliki Saragas, the film premiered at a bunch of film festivals throughout 2017. I first saw it at IDFA (the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam) last fall, and it's been on my mind ever since. However, since then I haven't heard or seen any news about the film. I was hoping some distributor would pick it up for release in the US or UK but that hasn't happened yet. And it hasn't played at any other major festivals since 2017. Which is a big shame, because it's an extraordinary portrait of South African women fighting against a careless mining corporation and taking matters into their own hands. I've been thinking about it so much that I've decided to just write a post to try and help the doc.
The film's quick pitch is basically this: a story about grandmothers from a South African town who organize to fight a corporation that owes their community so much after destroying it and the people there. It's really about a small South African town called Marikana, where a mining corporation came in and built a huge mining operation. They actually made contractual obligations to help the community and improve the town, but have never done so, defaulting (legally and ethically) on their promises. One of these women wins a seat in parliament, and the other becomes a lawyer, all so they can fight this corporation and remind everyone of the importance of individual people and their well being. It's a beautiful, enriching, empowering, riveting portrait of the power people have when they're determined to make a difference. Not only that, but Aliki Saragas is a wonderful filmmaker, and I had the honor of watching her speak during a Q&A at IDFA - and she's intelligent and passionate in the best of ways. I really want this to be available for everyone to watch.
Thankfully there is a trailer for Strike a Rock. And an official website with more details and information on how to participate and "Take Action". Give it a watch and keep an eye out for this. If you use social media, write about how you want to see it. Maybe this kind of extra attention will help this find proper distribution.
More info on the story being told from the trailer's description on Vimeo: "Strike A Rock is the story of two South African mothers and best-friends, Primrose Sonti and Thumeka Magwangqana. They live in Nkaneng, Marikana, an informal settlement in rural South Africa that sprung up around a mine operated by Lonmin Plc, the third largest platinum-extractor in the world. This company has significant legal obligations to the community that they mine under and around, but does not comply with all their responsibilities. This community became internationally known after the 2012 Marikana Massacre, when 37 striking mineworkers were killed by police. However, instead of improving, the living conditions that motivated the strike in the first place continue to worsen. And this is what Primrose and Thumeka are fighting against." You can read more about the "Women of Marikana" on the doc's website. Or follow Aliki: @FilmingLiksi. They do have an online presence, and it seems to be making an impact in South Africa, but this deserves a global audience.
I am lucky to watch films at film festivals all year long, seeing films that programmers have discovered and want to share with their audiences. Most of these films find distribution and get released at some point or another. But not all of them. And every once in a while, there's one that gets lost in the mix and I can't stop thinking about it. This is one of those excellent films that has always been on my mind. I am sure Strike A Rock has a big audience in South Africa, and maybe it has played at more festivals that I'm not aware of. But I've always been keeping an eye out for any news or updates about US distribution, and there hasn't been anything yet. The film doesn't even have a poster included or anything on IMDb besides the basics. It has screened at a few other big film festivals like the Sheffield Doc Festival and the Tel Aviv Human Rights Film Festival. But I was really hoping someone like Netflix or IFC Films would pick this up and show audiences how awesome these women are. Maybe it will happen sometime soon, I'm still keeping my fingers crossed.
Strike A Rock recently played at the Sole Luna Doc Film Festival (in Rome) and won Best Documentary (via Twitter). They judges explain perfectly why this film matters: "Strike A Rock is is the extraordinary example of a 'revolution' that can start not only from young people but from two grand-mothers. A powerful and inspiring fight for Justice with every means they have. They are persistent and they still keep trying, even if their life has been a series of disappointments. They don't give up." Indeed. And that's why I won't give up hoping that this film will find a distributor and be released to the world, with the great potential to inspire more revolutions and more fights for justice. I'll be keeping an eye out for any news, as I have been already. Documentaries are not just lively portraits of this world, they have the potential the change the world, too.