Filmmaker Khalo Matabane set out to do what very few have: to portray Nelson Mandela as a human. With Nelson Mandela: The Myth and Me, making its U.S. premiere at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival on June 14, the director not only hopes to have created a unique portrait of Mandela but that his story will serve as a unifying global exploration of peace and understanding. Matabane briefly shared some of the struggles he faced in creating the film, as well as his hopes for its future.

FilmLinc asked the directors included in the upcoming Human Rights Watch Film Festival to give some insight on filmmaking and tackling issue-oriented work prior to the launch of the series on June 13.

Nelson Mandela: The Myth and Me

Khalo Matabane, South Africa/Germany, 2013, 86m

Responses by Matabane:

On humanizing Mandela:

The idea occurred to me in Spain while attending the San Sebastian Film Festival, which is in part of the Basque country. There was conflict at that time and there were a series of violent incidents including bombings and shootings. One of my hosts, who had spent time in South Africa, told me that Spain needed Nelson Mandela to unite the country. I was fascinated by this notion that people somehow imagined Nelson Mandela to be this wizard who could offer solutions to every conflict in the world. Mandela represented something else to me and I wanted to explore that. I think Mandela, like all heroic figures, suffers from what the writer Chimamanda Adichie describes as the “the danger of the single story.” I wanted to humanize Mandela and go beyond the notion of him being a saint.

On uniting global audiences: 

When I started making films, I was convinced that cinema could change the world, but now I am no longer sure. I think what cinema can do is to provoke an audience. One thing that strikes me when I watch films is how similar human beings are from South Africa to Tunisia to France and Mexico and USA. Our struggles for freedom, justice, and equality are the same.

On challenges the film faced:

There were two main challenges. First that most people in South Africa and internationally refused to be in the documentary, perhaps because they didn’t want to be in a film that humanizes Nelson Mandela as opposed to others that sanctify him. And second, in terms of funding, we were told that there were far too many Mandela docs on the market. It was not an easy film to make, but we did it despite the challenges.

On the film’s future:

I believe that once you make a film, it does not belong to you anymore but to an audience who interprets it the way they want. It is difficult at times for filmmakers to accept this. My own wish is that the documentary is thought-provoking and interesting enough to create an opportunity for debate after the screening at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, which can then hopefully continue on in social networks.