Paul Taylor's documentary about the Agape Care Center in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, a privately run orphanage founded by "Grandma" Zodwa Mqadi, is a remarkable achievement. Neither sentimental nor condescending, it shines a light on both Mqadi and the children she inspires to reach for a better future, despite the harsh hand life has dealt them.
Shot over the course of three years, the film's heart and soul is Slindile Moya, who lost her parents to AIDS in 2000, when she was nine. Her older siblings -- three sisters and a brother -- reluctantly placed Slindile, three younger sisters and their little brother Mtho at Agape; only Nonkulueka, the youngest of the older Moya girls, has a job and her salary won't feed or educate them. The older Moyas remain in the family home, some half hour from Agape; 22-year-old Philisiwe has a small daughter and older brother Sifiso is sick -- all but the youngest Moyas know he probably has AIDS. Though physically separated, they remain emotionally close, their bond strengthened by the songs they learned from their parents; music connects them to the past and to each other. Grandma Zodwa, meanwhile, aspires to more than simply feeding and clothing her charges. Tappin g into the African tradition of collective singing, she created a choir to give her orphans focus, purpose and a sense of community. She believes their voices could attract international attention and help raise funds to expand Agape's reach. When a proposed UK tour falls through, she pins her hopes on a CD; against all odds, the project first attracts the support of South African pop singer Zwai, and then that of Alicia Keys and Paul Simon.
Taylor was studying TV production at England's Bournemouth University when a modest inheritance allowed him to take a three-month break from school; he decided to do volunteer work abroad and stumbled across Agape. A year later, Taylor returned to make a documentary that focused on the Moya family, especially the charismatic Slindile. It's easy to be cynical about privileged, self aggrandizing do-gooders who make names for themselves on the misery of others. But Slindile's co-writer credit is more than an empty gesture: It's Taylor's upfront acknowledgement that her shyly radiant smile is the message and his film is merely the medium.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: NR
- Review: Paul Taylor's documentary about the Agape Care Center in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, a privately run orphanage founded by "Grandma" Zodwa Mqadi, is a remarkable achievement. Neither sentimental nor condescending, it shines a light on both Mqadi and the ch… (more)