April 29, 2005
Waiting for Valdez, 2002
In an unnamed section of 1970s Johannesburg, a cheerful, inquisitive schoolboy named Sharky stares transfixedly at a billboard poster promoting the screening of the Burt Lancaster film, Valdez is Coming at a local theater. Living under the custody and supervision of his grandmother after his parents were forcibly uprooted and relocated to distant parts of Johannesburg during the implementation of apartheid segregation, young Sharky's childhood, nevertheless, retains a semblance of normalcy in spite of the political turmoil surrounding his country: an idyllic childhood filled with doting affection, playground misadventures, and curious bewilderment (in particular, from an eccentric relative whose ambition is to pass for a white person and, perhaps implicitly, avoid the mandated segregation). Unable to raise enough money to watch the film first-hand, he instead buys admission into the narrated installments of the story that his friends re-enact nightly around a bonfire. However, when his grandmother unexpectedly falls ill, Sharky ends up missing the end of the film. Filmmaker Dumisani Phakathi presents an understated and evocative quotidian portrait of life in 1970s apartheid-era segregation in Waiting for Valdez. Through the intrinsic correlation with Valdez is Coming - a film that, uncoincidentally, centers on a David and Goliath-styled retribution for a transgression that can never truly be set right - Phakathi presents Sharky's truncated story as an allegory for the broader national struggle sweeping South Africa as the turmoil and uncertainty of the times is revealed within the context of human history to merely serve as a delayed moment of inevitable reckoning.