It’s become an annual tradition. Soon after the Denver Jewish Film Festival wraps up, Boulder’s begins. There’s always some crossover, which is ideal for those who missed — or fell in love with — a film, but there are also new movies on offer. One is “An Act of Defiance,” described as the “less well known [story] of a Jewish-black alliance that fought apartheid in South Africa.”
As it turns out, the film doesn’t focus heavily on the Jewish role in the anti-apartheid movement. Indeed, the original title of the Dutch film is the more apt “Bram Fischer.”
The action takes place in 1963 and at its center is Fischer, lead counsel defending a group accused of sabotage and treason. Two Jewish figures who played a major role in fighting apartheid — Hilda Bernstein and Joel Joffe — are side characters in the film, though the latter has a powerful scene.
There is an interesting conflict with the prosecutor also being Jewish and expressing a personal betrayal that his co-religionists number so highly among the alleged saboteurs, but it isn’t explored beyond a single scene.
Lack of Jewish focus notwithstanding, “Act of Defiance” is a heartrending exploration of how an incomprehensible system of racism dehumanized and infantilized black South Africans, as well as impacted the whites who perpetrated it and battled it.
Fischer is a man caught between two worlds, struggling to balance the ideals of his profession, his political beliefs and his family life. Through this virtually unknown character — outside of South Africa at least — the filmmakers tell an important chapter of the fight against apartheid.
“An Act of Defiance,” distributed by Menemsha, screens March 9 and 12 at BJFF. Complete schedule can be found on the IJN Events Calendar.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org