Aruba 2013: Angels In Exile
Posted on Monday July 8, 2013, 18:01 by Simon Braund in Under The Radar
Just to catch up on a few other happenings at Arubafest IV (which, as expected, is turning out to be one happy festival, as intimate and charming as ever with a ton of great films on offer): Tuesday boasted, among many others, a screening of La Montana, an engaging documentary about three Domincan surfers who set out to conquer Pico Duarte, the Caribbean’s highest mountain; the world premiere of Dutch filmmaker Kees Van Oostrum’s romantic drama A Perfect Man, starring Liev Schreiber and Jeanne Tripplehorn; a screening of Finding Hillywood, a fascinating and poignant documentary charting one man’s path to salvation and the emergence of the Rwandan film industry; and the Caribbean premiere of the highly rated Venezuelan’Columbian’French co-production of Edeficio Royal, a razor-sharp comedy-drama set in an apartment building in Barranquilla, Columbia.
The day’s screening were followed by Latin Night, a high-spirited celebration of latin American cinema (well-represented in Aruba this year) with celebs from neighbouring Venezuela Maria Conchita Alsonso, Hilda Abrahamez, Maria Alejandro Martin and Albi de Abreu, all fresh from red carpet events, enlivening proceedings with their presence.
For Empire, the highlight of the night was a screening of Angels In Exile, a documentary that spans eight years in the lives of two children, Ariel and Zuleika, and their fight for survival on the streets of Durban, South Africa. The film, directed by Billy Raftery and narrated by Charlize Theron, does not make for easy viewing. In fact, it is among the most harrowing cinematic experiences you’re ever likely to have; the extremes of poverty, neglect, abuse and the constant life-threatening danger of life on the streets almost impossible to comprehend. That these are endured, with super-human fortitude, by kids who, when the film begins are not even in their teens, is heartbreaking. As are their intermittent, usually failed, attempts to return home - home not being for them the refuge it is for most of us, but another place fraught with danger and abuse, the very things they were running from in the first place.
After the screening Empire spoke with director Billy Raftery about his experience of making the film, the bond he formed with Ariel and Zuleika and the .
Filming the appalling plight of these kids, was it difficult to maintain objectivity at times?
The rule of themb witg a documentary is that you really remain out of it. The friendships and relationships we had really superseded the filmmaking, so I was very much involved. There was an organic decision to put myself in the film a little bit because we were friends. I wasn’t shooting from far away, I was in there. But kids would come up to me all the time, apart from Ariel and Zuleika; there were thousands of them. As a side note, there were five thousand street kids in Durban when we started this film; right now there’s less than four hundred. That’s all thanks to Umthombo (an action group founded to get kids off the streets and into a safe environment). It was hard not to be partisan; I had to be engaged, I had to be a part of it.
You originally went to Durban to surf. What motivated you to make the documentary and get involved with Umthombo?
If I hadn’t [got involved] I’d have been just another person down there going, ‘Oh these poor kids,’ then turning round and not really giving a shit. I went down there to visit a friend, the surf and party. Coming from New Jersey, having friends in the projects, I thought I knew what abject poverty was. But seeing these kids publicly huffing glue and people walking by not even batting an eyelid, I was completely blown away. It affected me so much I called my father and said, ‘I have to engage with these children through making a film or working with a non-profit.’ My naivety was the best thing I had going for me making this film because I thought it’d take a year. We just let them dictate the film, and ten years later... Focusing on these two kids, a girl and a boy, both sides of the street, it was a way of saying these kids represent kids like them around the world. This doesn’t just happen in South Africa.
How much footage did you shoot?
We shot around two hundred hours. The film is 74 minutes so obviously we had to cut a lot. Right now we’re taking the excess footage of all these other kids, who all have very compelling stories that didn’t make the final cut, and giving it to universities and film classes to have students edit their own two- to five-minute movies from a summary I’ll give them. Then we’ll have a campus-wide film festival.
What was it about Ariel and Zuleika that persuaded you to focus on them?
Ariel spoke fluent English, so that was a good in-road into meeting other children. He’s also very compelling and he has a charisma that I thought would work well in telling the story of the boys on the street. Zuleika was a whole different story. I came across her after about a year or so there. Typically, the girls are very suspicious of outsider, especially white foreigners because they usually treat them as a sexual target. She broke that mould. As soon as i pulled up she was dancing around and shouting, ‘Hey white boy, what you doing here!?’ I thought, Holy shot, she’s got it. I started talking to her and found out about her story I thought she’s be a great example of what goes on with the girls.
Obviously you’re still in touch with them. How are they doing now?
We stay in very close touch through the non-profit Children Rise Foundation (founded by Raftery). Ariel is not as good as Zuleika right now. He’s off the streets but he does go back when something goes wrong to see his friends. He’ll do some drugs the go back home. He’s in between the streets, but he’s not a street kid, and he has a job. Zuleika and her boyfriend are still together. Their story is incredible. She’s the captain of her own ship, she has a full-time job and they’re doing great.
Have they seen the film?
Yes. We screened it at the Durban International Film Festival four years ago, the idea was t use the venue as a way to get the children in to see the film. It was a total rough cut, not polished at all. But we wanted to get the kids’ approval for us to proceed and finish the film. They signed off on it; they said, ‘This is our life’