In Conversation with Rehad Desai: "This was the biggest protest movement in post-Apartheid history."
The internationally-acclaimed filmmaker talks about documenting one of the largest student movements of the 21st century in 'Everything Must Fall'.
Everything Must Fall documents the Fees Must Fall movement which happened in 2015 and continued into 2016. It is a raw and uncensored account of what happened when thousands of South African students mobilized across the country and refused to be kept out of the very institutions they believed would end the cycle of poverty and unemployment that dominated their lives and those of their families.
The documentary, which is directed by Rehad Desai, is narrated by four of the prominent student leaders who were at the front line of violent clashes with police all the while fighting for the immovable belief that universities should not be elitist spaces that exclude the poor. Professor Adam Habib, The Vice Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand—the birthplace of the student movement—is also featured in the documentary.
Desai is a prolific South African filmmaker whose films have been screened at over 40 film festivals including Cannes. He's also a social activist who returned from political exile in the UK towards the end of Apartheid in 1990. Bring those two elements together and you have explosive documentaries such as Everything Must Fall and Miners Shot Down.
Miners Shot Down documented the 2012 Marikana massacre where 34 miners were gunned down by the police, all because they had asked for better wages and for their employers to simply "come and see how they were living".
We sat down with Desai to talk about some of the challenges he encountered documenting this historical movement and what touched him personally as a storyteller.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.