A little commentary would have helped put the tragedy of the "Hillbrow Kids" into sharper perspective. As it stands, this disturbing documentary about young, black South African children who live on the streets of Hillbrow an impoverished neighborhood in
Johannesburg is the stuff of urban nightmares: powerful images that lack the benefit of context. German filmmakers Michael Hammon and Jacqueline Gorgen forgo conventional narration to follow a fictitious South African storyteller (Regina Ndlovu) as she wanders the very real byways of
Johannesburg, where the homeless children who inhabit Hillbrow's dismal shantytowns beg white South Africans for loose change. Some, like Shadrack, have left poor, neglectful homes. Others, like Vusi, have grown restless with life in the dusty townships and crave the excitement of the streets.
Many are addicted to sniffing glue; all of them have grown up long before their time. The storyteller is a contrivance that really adds nothing to the film; if anything, the folktales she tells (none of which appear to have more than a tenuous connection to the subject at hand) are a distraction;
the real-life stories of these children are dramatic enough. What the film needs is a firmer sociological framework: The ironic juxtaposition of gleaming office towers with the heaps of garbage the Hillbrow kids call home and the automatic assumption that this is all the human fallout of
apartheid isn't enough. The images implicitly belie the promise of a new South Africa for the underclass, but Johannesburg otherwise remains disconnected from its very specific history. It's just another city with an homeless youth problem; it could be the Rio of PIXOTE, the Mexico City of
LOS OLVIDADOS, the Seattle of STEETWISE, or the L.A. of THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, PART III.
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