ARTWOLFE: The pace of the film reflects a thorough engagement and patience to uncover the personal stories of people who took part in the early years of the struggle for Namibia’s independence. Why did you choose this specific time frame and the people you focused on?
PAKLEPPA: The time frame that drew my curiosity was that of origins: the awakening of national consciousness and the rise of an anti-colonial resistance that led to what would become a very long war of liberation. The traces and wounds of that 23 year war are still very present in our society; which also attracted me to wishing to understand how things “started”. I chose to focus on the personal stories that also make important parts of our national history. The choice of the voices came first from personal friendships and then also out of the details of the historical events.
ARTWOLFE: Your comment that the wounds of the war are still very present is pertinent. What role do you think Paths to Freedom can play in independent Namibia?
PAKLEPPA: I think memory work and healing are long term processes to which many events, cultural artefacts and expressions contribute in a non-linear way. Political consciousness, consciousness of citizenship, identity and active participation in a democracy arise in pockets and over time may or may not acquire significant collective or shared strength. At such moments societies may shift, may find themselves ready to take more responsibility for governance or create a more discerning electorate who holds its elected public servants to account. We are a very young country. In historical terms we are in our infancy. I do not believe that Paths to Freedom can have a direct impact on the deeply troubling symptoms of our democracy. I believe a film like ‘Paths’ creates a container space in which citizens are able to think about an aspect of their history, their heritage. The thoughts that happen in individual viewers and in the multiple collective spaces of society, through conversations, comments and reflections, may lead to shifts in how things are seen. A work like ‘Paths’ allows for new thoughts, e.g. “Oh, history was made by many people, even people like my grandmother….” and , perhaps at some stage these thoughts connect with other thoughts … if we all contributed to creating a more free society then we all have a say in how this new society should work…..
As a filmmaker my hope is that the audience in their own ways connect the dots between the past and the present by “living through” the experience of our elders and connecting these to themselves.
ARTWOLFE: Did you have a narrative structure in mind to which you fitted interview questions, or did the outcome of the interviews guide the structure of the film?
PAKLEPPA: I had read everything I could find, carefully compared written testimonies, accounts, radio interviews, TV programmes, newspaper cuttings, books, reports. From this an idea of events in different places over 40 years grew. I then did some very in depth interviews covering all the events I had read about, cross checking, exploring further stories and themes in the interviews. Many interviews were also life stories filmed over a few days. So with all these characters and their priceless memories I became a collector of many stories. The insight from the memories shaped and changed my understanding of what I thought had happened. So the interviews definitely guided the tapestry of the film.
ARTWOLFE: I read an accusatory message in the Namibian newspaper saying that the film contained fiction.
PAKLEPPA: I’d like to know about what fiction that message may be referring to. At the same time: by telling a history in a film I do not make the claim that this is the absolute truth. History is not simply true history or false history. History is constructed. Memory is not equivalent to truth. There are many memories, many narratives. I have not knowingly departed from any historical facts known.
In a finite work like a 100 minute film that takes on such a broad history there are necessarily choices about what to leave out. To structure a story that keeps the audience engaged requires making choices. I think here, I tried to make choices based on my best knowledge of the overall course of events, my sense of what we – the audience – need to know to follow the story.
ARTWOLFE: Any advice to Namibians interested in making their own documentaries?
PAKLEPPA: Listen to yourself and discover what your inner necessity is, what it is you feel strongly about. Put your inklings and concerns to paper. Develop the idea. Test it on people you respect to see if it could find an audience. Nurture the seed of the idea because it will have to become very strong to take you through the challenges of making a film. Read everything you can, talk to people, keep notes, build a vision for the ideas and the visual narrative of the film. Imagine the film. Take a camera and record sound and vision. Love what you do with all your heart. Be very open and honest with the people in your film. The more you give the more you will receive.
ARTWOLFE: With all that research and footage do you have any future plans?
PAKLEPPA: I am looking at ways of making this archive available to other writers, researchers and filmmakers to utilise and build on.
ARTWOLFE: Thank you Richard for your help and for answering so generously.
PAKLEPPA: Thank you all for your interest!
Richard Pakleppa is the director of the film Paths to Freedom – The Story of the Birth of Namibia’s Armed Struggle against South Africa. You can buy Paths to Freedom at Orombonde Bookshop in the Craft Centre, at Antonio the DVD/CD seller on Post Street Mall and at Spar shops in Windhoek and Otjiwarongo
This image was taken by Tony Figueira in 1990, Windhoek, during independence. Special thanks to Studio Seven for the use of the image.