What kind of man are you?

Catch a Fire (2006) was at the New Capital Cinemas. The DVD version was released on January 30, 2007. So ask for it at your local video shop.

First, it is based on the true story of Patrick Chamusso, a Mozambican who had settled and made a new life for himself in South Africa, working his way up to a foreman at Secunda, where petrol was made from coal (an expensive facility necessitated by United Nations (UN) economic sanctions).


Second, the script is by Shawn Slovo and her sister Robyn Slovo is one of the producers and plays their mother, Ruth First, in the film. The Slovo sisters were first covered in A World Apart (1987) directed by Chris Menges, which was Shawn Slovo's abstracted story of what it meant to live without her mother Ruth First and her father Joe Slovo. Indirectly Catch a Fire is a tribute to their parents 19 years later (Ruth First, then director of a policy research centre, was killed by a letter bomb in Maputo in 1982 and Joe Slovo, who served as Chief of Staff of the People's Army, Umkhonto we Sizwe, and later National Chairman of the SA Communist Party, died in 1995). Third, Catch a Fire is directed by the originally Australian, Phillip Noyce, whose first film was Backroads (1977).


Noyce has long had a fascination with clandestine activities, having made Clear and Present Danger (1994) on the CIA in South America and the abuse of power, and then his best film so far, The Quiet American (2002), brought Graeme Greene's novel about British and American agents in Vietnam in the 1950s to the screen. Fourth, Catch a Fire ends with some brief but wonderful footage of the real Patrick Chamusso in South Africa today where he runs a small orphanage for 80 children.


Bob Marley and the Wailers provide the title to this film from their platter of the same name (1973), and more of their music is used in the movie. The film opens in 1980 and introduces us to Patrick Chamusso (acted by the American Derek Luke who played Antwone Fisher, 2002, a role that won him Best Actor from the Independent Spirit Awards) and his family in the Transvaal on their way to and at a wedding. His long-suffering wife is Precious Chamusso (played well by Bonnie Henna). They have two young daughters, Lindiwe and Albertina Chamusso (played by Onthatile Ramasodi and Ziizi Mahlati). Patrick also has a son by another woman, Miriam (Terry Pheto) whom he tries to keep at a distance, but Precious is very jealous. When Secunda is first bombed by the ANC, Patrick is picked up by an anti-terrorist squad, but consistently proclaims his innocence (he was with Miriam that night, but does not want to confess it). When Precious is taken in and abused and then he breaks. The Afrikaner police team is led by Colonel Nic Vos (played by another American, Tim Robbins, who is also an effective singer, song and scriptwriter, director and actor in his own right).


There are some strong scenes where Colonel Vos tries to "turn" Patrick so that he will work for them as an anti-terrorist. But the consequence of their brutality, and his knowledge of what is required of him, is that Patrick decides to enlist in the cause and goes to Maputo to be trained as a member of the Umkhonto we Sizwe.


The movie now changes gear and becomes a "cat-and- mouse" thriller, based on what transpired after Patrick Chamusso joined the MK and become "Hot Stuff". The apartheid forces have their spies. The attack on the MK training centre in Maputo, led by Colonel Vos, is chilling (and rings of similar attacks on Botswana). Patrick moves to Swaziland, where he acquires a passport, but his every move is still being monitored.


The chase is a close one. Patrick succeeded in reaching his target, but only partially. He also did not become missing bones in an unmarked grave along with 2,000 others, but had his day in court and served his time on Robbin Island. Shawn Slovo and Phillip Noyce, along with their excellent cast, have done a remarkable job in capturing these events.

 But "Catch a Fire" is not a history lesson, and viewers unaware of the context of events may be confused. It is an overall better film than some recent Hollywood films set in Africa: Blood Diamonds, In My Country and Red Dust.


Catch a Fire was filmed in South Africa and Mozambique at the various locations where the original events occurred. It's authenticity is enthralling. The film also resonates with the World since September 11, 2001, as the uses of the words "terrorist" and "anti-terrorist" have various levels of meaning and relate to both an historical context and the methods used. The old dilemma involving the relationship between ends and means is raised again, but left to you to resolve. What is a just cause?

Catch a Fire is one hour and 41 minutes long. It is rated 16+ because of violence and language. Besides those credited above the cinematographers are Ron Fortunato and Garry Phillips; the editor is Jill Bilcock; and the music is by Philip Miller (and Bob Marley and the Wailers).

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Editor's Comment
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