“What did you dream?” Could there be a more powerful provocation to think of what we hoped for, for our future, for this time in our lives as South Africans? What did you dream in the year 1990? What did you imagine could be possible when you first learned that freedom was at the cusp? Did you dream of how your life would change? Did you envision magical images of the dead rising and dancing at the dawn of democracy? Who did you dream for?
What Did You Dream? Is a deceptively simple story. Director Karabo Lediga creates layers of visual and narrative hints at its complexity. Boipelo wears a badge for “Best Hair” in the dream they finally have. A hint at the future where Boipelo will have to win at political games that attempt to undermine the black child’s appearance in multiracial SA. A game more difficult to win than the simpler numbers-game of Fahfee her grandmother plays to keep the household afloat. The events are set in a symbolic moment in South Africa’s history: 1990, when transition was thick with uncertainty. And the three children, who magnificently wield the world of this film, learn how to manifest their own dreams by taking up indigenous knowledge about herbs that awaken the spirit in dreams. They do so against their grandmother’s advice and transition from being afraid of what they have been taught about indigenous methods, to being able to take their dreams into their own hands.
Even the magically graded cinematography can be missed in its expertly edited approach, the dream world and the real world have a similar glow. This is not the spectacle of a Wakanda world. It is real. And it is also entrancing. Both reality and incantation work seamlessly together. One could classify the short film as a kind of magic realism. There is an enchanting scene at the apex, where Boipelo eventually dreams. But the film is shot with such ease of realism that it seems to hint at the ways that the supernatural is simply a part of life; just as dreams are.
So, in What Did You Dream? is a needling for us to connect the moment that we find ourselves in with our own dreams of freedom and real transformation. Just like Boipelo and their cousins, we are asked to sit on our proverbial stoep, to look at our world, and see the ways we can manifest the futures of our most hopeful, co-responsible dreams.
Watch it on the National Arts Festival Fringe here.
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