An Unfinished Symphony – National Geographic, Nobel Peace Prize Shorts

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Director: Orlando von Einsiedel

The unfinished symphony of the title of this short film for National Geographic is South Africa. Even after apartheid the country remains segregated with the two races hardly mixing, and the country is also divided by wealth and has the world’s greatest income inequality. One exception is The Miagi Orchestra which features both black and white people and which believes that Nelson Mandela’s hopes for a ‘Rainbow Nation’ can still be realised through music.

In this film, produced by National Geographic and the Nobel Prize, Orlando von Einsiedel follows two musicians, one black and one white, as they prepare to play for the Miagi Orchestra, whose mission is to continue the work of Mandela, the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Tsepo Pooe is from Soweto and practises the cello in a corridor somewhere while Lize Schaap plays her violin in a room full of pianos in Pretoria. Their backgrounds could not be more different.

Tsepo recognises how lucky he was to go to a school that had musical instruments and is pleased that he can continue his passion in an orchestra. Lize’s reasons for joining the orchestra seem more mercenary. Aware of her privilege as a white South African she admits that she joined the Miagi as way to travel to Europe. Despite her honesty, it is Tsepo’s story we are more interested in, and von Einsiedel continues to point out the differences between the families of the two musicians. Lize’s family eat dinner at a table in a dining room while Tsepo’s family eat fried chicken from plates on their knees while sitting on the sofa.

The film is beautifully shot, especially the landscape around Soweto. The two cooling towers of the old Soweto power station stand like sentries to the township, as dusk falls and boys play football in the dirt and women wash clothes by the water pumps. The pictures of white South Africa are taken in full daylight, and, in comparison to Soweto, the images are brash and unromantic.

For both Tsepo and Lize the orchestra is one of the few spaces where diversity exists and despite the occasional cliché about the power of music being universal there’s little sense in the film of these friendships extending further than the auditorium. Balancing all the hope in this 20-minute piece is the sense that Mandela’s dream is still far out of reach. As well as unfinished, South Africa, this film implies, is a bittersweet symphony.

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