Movies, Music
Fokof on Film

Fokof on Film

by Thomas Okes / 07.07.2009

Are Fokofpolisiekar really the most important movement in Afrikaans culture since Johannes Kerkorrel and the Voelvry generation? Legions of fans, academics, journalists and musicians reckon that they have changed the face of South African music. A new documentary film attempts to tell the whole Fokken storie. But in essence, filmmakers Bryan Little and Filipa Domingues have tried to tell two stories, of Fokof the band and Fokof the socio-cultural hurricane. It is an ambitious project: as Little remarked after Friday night’s premiere, the challenge was often to “get to a clarity of the whole thing, and still make a movie which wasn’t four hours long”. Fokof themselves are six years old, and the breadth of their impact has ballooned out of all reasonable proportion. Clearly, the “whole thing” needs a lot of clarifying.

From the outset, the movie swings between documenting the movements of the band and discussing the country’s reaction to them. The formation of Fokofpolisiekar is considered from the particular stance of an Afrikaans generation straddling the divide of 1994, unsure of their cultural place. Wynand Myburgh explains how, before the band formed, “we didn’t like who we were … [and] Fokof was a way to liberate ourselves”. In a similar way, Hunter Kennedy describes the original idea as a moment of profound dissatisfaction with, “all of those Afrikaans expectations … everything Johannes Kerkorrel sang about”, and he notes that in starting Fokof, “we basically wanted to drop any kind of Calvinistic indoctrination”.

That process is a difficult one. From the beginning, Fokof’s formation is a desperate, jerky lunge out into the unknown. Their long and bumbling drive up to Johannesburg in the hope of making an EP; their painful first sessions in the recording studio; their practically bankrupt forays into fledgling life as a full-time rock band. Affirmation arrives only in the aftermath of the first-ever Fokofpolisiekar live performance. The band’s own footage records a backstage moment of explicit, collective, euphoric relief, as Hunter and Francois lie on the floor and shout “Ons wen! Ons wen!”. When asked in an interview what that show might still mean to them, the band members clench their fists, grin, and shout, “Success!”.

Fokofpolisiekar

It also made them heroes. Quickly and inadvertantly, Fokofpolisiekar became an iconic figurehead for a generation of Afrikaans youth in cultural stasis and creative crisis. One critic declares in the movie that before this band took the stage, there was, “a gaping hole in the creative consciousness of Afrikaans South Africa”. Valiant Swart describes later how, “there were people waiting for someone to come and say, ‘This is what it’s like for us’”. The controversy that surrounds the band is framed within this theme, and shown to have opened new circles of debate, centred around a redefinition of white, Afrikaans identity. The band’s lyrics are discussed extensively for their capacity to encourage a rethink of one’s role in relation to the rigidity of a conservative Afrikaans culture.

Two-and-a-half years of fine-tuning have brought the weight of this beautiful documentary to a delicate point, somewhere between too involved and too far removed. Bryan Little commented after the screening that, “when you shove a camera in someone’s face, the story changes.” And in this case – the history of a group of live performers – telling the “story” becomes a careful and often courageous balancing act.

The movie functions well as a woven quilt, where each part of its intricate design may be imagined in relation to a great many others. The stitching between various parts of the pattern is subtle and elegant: comical Q&A insights of a reporter named Golla Batprop are placed next to the more serious opinions of academic Rebecca Kahn; the band’s relation of one hilarious incident of intolerance is juxtaposed with a militant speech by Eugene Terreblanche; the band itself is examined both as a group and as five separate individuals talking back to each other. These contrasting perspectives are allowed to co-exist on common ground, and the resulting mix is a comprehensive picture, from inside and out, of the Fokofpolisiekar phenomenon.

It is also impressively layered. The narrative is pieced together from a wide range of tape: Matt Edwards’ sleeve art comes to animated life alongside Liam Lynch’s dramatic live photography; large and small concerts are captured from one angle in HD and the next a sweaty 16mill; television stock is granted fresh significance in light of the band’s own grainy, self-shot footage. As a microscope which shifts in depth and focus between warm intimacy and a cooler distance, the film’s camera is insightful and appreciative; it sheds a light into the maturing kernel of Fokofpolisiekar itself and provides an overview of their greater significance.

In its attempt to regard Fokofpolisiekar and the extent of their cultural impact, the film finds itself treading a painstaking line. “If you push just a fraction too much, people will pull away instinctively” says Bryan Little. He hopes that the film, in its carefully well-rounded approach toward the Fokof story, will leave the viewer “open to changing something in themselves… [wanting] to find out who they are”. The lesson of this documentary, then, might be his idea that “everyone has the right to tell their own truth”: in that sense, Fokofpolisiekar may have, for just a moment, filled the “gaping hole”, and given young white South Africans a space, as Little puts it, to “say and be anything they want”.

But Hunter says it better. “We didn’t go out intending to speak for a generation, we were just trying to make sense of things for ourselves”. This movie is a history of Fokofpolisiekar speaking out of turn, and a picture of them teaching an unsung and patently unpopular generation to speak for itself.

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RESPONSES (24)
  1. Adriaan says:

    Very well written Thomas.

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  2. AT says:

    Great article. But I just can’t escape the feeling that too much is being made of what is, in effect, a fairly niche and, in my opinion, totally over-hyped band. I think statements like “speak for a generation” should be carefully qualified – we’re not talking about the next Nirvana here. Just a small local band who had a very loyal following from a specific sector. They owe a lot to a fantastic media campaign and overall package – good enough to make people who hadn’t even heard them play pretend that they like them.

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  3. Charles says:

    Fully hear you, AT.
    The doccie sounds great, but is Fokof really that good musically?
    Francois van Coke’s vocals, anyone?

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  4. JD says:

    Fokof really doesn’t warrant this kind of attention. if they’ve become a “socio-cultural hurricane” at all its only in the eyes of fawning writers and photographers with a tin ear for good pop music.

    this film takes itself and its subject wayyyy too seriously. i opted out after about 20 mins.

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  5. gil says:

    Thanks for the article.

    re AT and Charles, I don’t think that the importance of Fokofpolisiekar is overstated at all. As a white, english-speaking South African who was in his late 20′s when Fokof emerged, it was clear from the first promo for their first ep that something really special was happening. of course, that something special was happening within the context of the local industry, which is pretty small and isolated at best. But perhaps that is the point, because as much as I have tried I can’t think of a band since the Springbok Nude Girls who have had such a dramatic effect on South African rock music.

    Even if there are only 20 or 30 thousand people listening, you can’t deny those ears the opportunity for a bit of liberation. And while Fokof may not have had the genre bending sound of the Nude Girls, they more than made up for it with production value, lyrical content and, most importantly, cultural relevance. In the last decade, there really hasn’t been a South African rock band that has meant so much to so many people.

    My two abiding memories of this band:

    Seeing them play to 300 people in the Mystic Boer in Stellenbosch (a club with a capacity of 150 at a push) with Franscios hanging from the rafters above the crowd who were spilling onto the stage and leaving various pieces of metal furniture mangled beyond recognition.

    And wandering around the Oppikoppi campsite one morning and realising that while the car radios of the festival usually blare out a mix ranging from AC/DC to Koos Kombuis to Nirvana to those awful dans-treffer house mixes and anything in between – that year 9 out of ten cars were playing Fokofpolisiekar.

    On a global scale, for sure, Fokof are a drop in the ocean. But their relevance in our local rock scene cannot be denied. As things stand, they are as big as it gets.

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  6. Joe says:

    You guys are a bunch of self centred kooks who obviously know nothing about music! Which is exactly why in SA our best bands never make it cause the musically ignorant sheep that surround us would rather go to an Oasis concert. The only mainstream drawback Fokof has is The Afrikaans. Why is a band like Taxi Violence, hands down the best band in SA, not on the international stage, rocking out? Its idiots like you with your blue iPod nanos singing ‘your sex is on fire’ on the top of your little lungs that are in dire need of an education! Once you have been to a Fokof concert and wake up with a strange naked chick in your bed with your mouth tasting like Francoise took a dump in it then you may have an opinion. But little faggots that listen to The Plastics and equally ridiculous lame /poser bands should keep your opinions to yourselves. F*$KN kooks!

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  7. Joe says:

    You can begin your education today:
    http://www.overload.co.za/video/131/Taxi-Marshall-Music-Chaos

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  8. JD says:

    plus, saying fok all the time isn’t that revolutionary. not any more.

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  9. Joe says:

    JD, I am so intrigued as to who your favorite SA band is! Please tell us!

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  10. overseas fan says:

    AT, I sure as hell hope they’re not the next Nirvana, I want these guys alive and kicking for a long time. But these guys have The Real Thing going on at least as much as good old Nirvana did. I’m a northwest US girl, completely unaware of local hype, I just heard them and went whoa, who’s that? I want more of that… Liked them even better once I started to find out what they were saying. It may not be to your taste, but they’re speaking for my generation and I’m not even from here.

    Joe – wow, foam at the mouth much, dude? You sound like a youtube comment. How are these guys oppressing Taxi Violence when they’re bringing members onstage as honored guests?

    I’m not claiming, it’s “good pop music”, it’s not nearly content-free enough for that, for one thing. I’m just saying, it’s the real thing, and damn well done, it’s not just about media hype or even being from South Africa at all.

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  11. I can spel (J)APATIE says:

    Just because you don’t rate them, doesn’t detract from their awesomeness, only from yours.
    Remember that their significance stretches beyond Afrikaans kids being told that it’s ok to think for yourself and disagree with the norm. It was a clear signal to all other South Africans that all Afrikaners DON’T fit into a verkrampte little box and that even kids from behind the boereworsgordyn could think for themselves.

    And I think Angola Badprop might find his new name “Golla Batprop” amusing!

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  12. AT says:

    I wrote a great rebuttal that has somehow got lost in the Mahala ether. The crux of it was this – just because you’re a decent band that can fill a small venue in your own backyard, swing from rafters, break furniture and throw up on stage, it hardly makes you the voice of a generation or anything particularly groundbreaking or revolutionary. In fact, it makes you a total copy cat – desperate bands around the world have been doing that for years in search of attention. You can’t blame the guys, because obviously it works, and they’re probably one of the few rock bands in the country to make some bucks because of it. But the comments about the band really seem like those said in post-gig glory, the kind of “Oh my god, that was the best gig in the world,” or “Wow, look at all those kids in ripped jeans drinking brandy from the bottle. You’re speaking for a generation here boys!” And, I don’t blame the band, their friends and fans for thinking that, because even the best of us get caught in the moment, but it’s when it’s put into a movie like this that it starts to sound totally cliche and more than a little bit silly. And Joe, I wrote a nice little note for you that’s since got lost so I’m going to hold back, save to say having breath that smells like Francois’, or anyone’s, for that matter, shit, is not something to be too proud about, and I’m pretty sure the bird you woke up next to would agree.

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  13. Charles says:

    Joe, I also suspect she didn’t think “The sex was on fire” either

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  14. Twinfinn says:

    Good work, Thomas. Nice to see some well-reasoned critique of SA filmmaking.

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  15. Penny Lane says:

    Maybe not the next nirvana,no.
    but what has nirvana done for ME. can’t you see that this is more than just a “rock band”.
    these boys sure as hell changed my life.
    to you they might be,i don’t know, a joke?
    or a just another local band.
    but it’s more then that,it’s the fact that for a few minutes a day
    you get to not be alone. you get to be yourself in a world thats doing it’s best to change you.
    if thats the case,then why not?
    if this is just a “moment” then give me a fucking moment.
    call this/them what you want, but if i get to be what i want to be,
    without being scared of being punished for it and they are the reason for that,
    then so be it. maybe not a generation, but if there are other people that share this.
    then they better be making a big deal. You are wrong when you say the kids are
    just there for decadence.
    I think it’s more like romance and hope and inspiration and
    that feeling that you get when other human beings pick up basic instruments
    and make sense of your world.
    And the day that I think it’s just about making money is gonna be the day that I’ve betrayed everything I believe in about music and life and myself.
    so no this is not too much, not even a little bit.

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  16. The_Snip says:

    Music = Entertainment
    Fokof = Entertainment

    If you don’t like them you don’t have to go watch the movie or go to their shows. Why comment then? You clearly don’t understand what its all about if you trying to refer them to Nirvana and attention seekers.

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  17. Sean says:

    I am really looking forward to seeing the movie. My single defining moment of PKar is how I felt after seeing them live at Zeplins a few years ago. No other local live band performance even comes close. They own the stage and the audience. Their music is original and the lyrics are intelligent and relevant. They have paved the way for new SA Afrikaans rock, and have given us an alternative to the often embarrassing crap that has spewed forth from Afrikaans mouths.

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  18. JGB says:

    C’mon Charles. Nothing wrong with Van Coke’s vocal performance. Sure he is no Ville Valo, but thats besides the point. Look at Nirvana for instance. Kurt Cobain couldn’t sing to save his live. . . no pun intended.

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  19. Farel says:

    AT, dude if you are not afrikaans you would not understand! These guys are one of a kind! If you take time to read and try to understand their lyrics you might see why they are the only SA band than CAN make a documentry and sell out a cinema! You are entitled to your opinion, but your opinion won’t take away the fact that the are the best afrikaans rock band in the history of time! Haha and I know afrikaans is not a old language but that might be the reason why they are revolutionary and the can speak to a whole generation of afrikaans kids like me! :-)

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  20. xbrandonx says:

    Seriously.

    I was BLOWN away by this dvd.
    To me, they are the SEX PISTOLS of South Africa. Without a doubt.

    I’ve been playing in punk bands since the early 90′s and this band are it.

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  21. my2cents says:

    Only in South African can a band like this be considered “controversial” because anywhere else in the world they would be considered mediocre, at best. I’ve been to one of their live shows and it became quite apparent that everyone over the age of 21 was unimpressed and bored out of their minds (myself included). Add to this the fact that after the show Francois was drunk and obnoxious, trying to bum smokes from everyone and asking to borrow a cell phone because he needs to contact his dealer and needs a lift home, and you get the impression of a guy who is trying his darndest to act “rock ‘n roll” but fails miserably.

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  22. W@T says:

    My Q would be, why do people always act as if they understand. When they are not even in the focus group. If you come from anywhere other than a small town in south africa, it would be impossible for you to understand. I did, and I get the speaking for a generation thing, cause we grew up in the same circumstances…

    With the same propaganda the church integrated in our heads. When Fokof speaks against God – it’s actually aimed at the church that has lied to us all.

    You have to be afrikaans to understand how our parents were, and the way they brain-washed their kids. Without even knowing what they did.
    It ends up with just being very controversial. It’s done this way.. All other ways of thinking and doing is wrong.

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  23. W@T says:

    Many of you sound like Metallica fans criticizing a Britney spears album..

    Why comment if it’s something you don’t like.
    What – to let everybody know about your negativity ? – does it make you feel like you matter to the world when you blast numerous topics with your “insightful” comments ?

    Inner issues resides in those that only see the darkness.

    Go to a website of a band you like, and tell everybody there how it changed you or helped you to get over struggling times in your life . Just like you don’t want to hang around negative people. We don’t want to hear your negative thoughts.

    Sigh.. such a drag

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  24. vraag dude says:

    who translated the movie. cause they really sucks balls. i bet u they were against the band. lol. . ek is die hel in is nie.. iam in hell nie . for fuck sakes.. o yeah and hunter if u ever read this. there is an ultimate answer. but to expect that from the ng gemeente is a laughable matter

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