The film is based on the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, which tells the story of his early life, his fight against apartheid and the 27 years he spent in prison before becoming the first democratically elected president of South Africa. The script was written by William Nicholson. British actor Idris Elba portrayed Nelson Mandela while his fellow compatriot Naomie Harris played his wife Winnie Mandela.
“In 1994, the people of South Africa chose Nelson Mandela as their first democratically elected president,” Ambassador of South Africa to Kazakhstan Shirish Soni told The Astana Times before the premiere of the 141-minute film. “So today, above all, we are celebrating 20 years of freedom and democracy; it’s a big milestone for us. We are a young country with a young democracy, but we have quite a story to tell. Consequently, this is the first year we are celebrating freedom and democracy without our iconic leader; Mandela passed away in December 2013. It is a pity he is not with us,” Soni noted.
The world premiere took place at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2013. Earlier this year, the film was awarded a Golden Globe in the category “Best Original Song for a Motion Picture.”
“An interesting fact about this film is that it is based on a book that was written by Mandela while he was in prison,” Soni explained. “He had to hide the paper in tins in the prison’s garden,” Soni said. “So while imprisoned in a high-security prison, his fellow inmate Mac Maharaj, who had a knack for writing in tiny handwriting, buried the writings underground while working in the garden.”
When Maharaj was released, he managed to smuggle out the pieces of paper according to the ambassador. He wrote a book based off of them that was later published in 1995.
“I must thank the people of Kazakhstan for their interest in our celebrations of Mandela, which we launched in 2012. For example, Fryday Astana hosted parties to celebrate Mandela’s life, Internations hosted parties in Almaty, the Akim (governor) of Eastern Kazakhstan Berdybek Saparbayev, jointly with deputy akims and a museum curator, hosted an exhibition of Mandela’s life,” Soni said.
Soni encourages Kazakhstan’s citizens to commemorate the values Mandela left behind by doing 67 minutes of community service. “These 67 minutes represent the years that Mandela contributed to the freedom and democracy South Africans and people around the world enjoy today,” Soni stressed.
The film was shown for the first time in a Commonwealth of Independent States country. The movie screening started with a video message from the producer of the film Anant Singh, who addressed the audience.
“Today, in this hall, let us honour Nelson Mandela with this film and allow his legacy to live in our continuing struggle against injustice and the destruction of the human spirit by setting an example for our future generation,” Executive Secretary of the Kazakh Foreign Ministry Askar Mussinov said.
“We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of my country and South Africa: you can make his life’s work your own. We learned of Mandela and the struggles in his land. We should learn from them. It generates our responsibility to others. He was the personification of what is best about mankind. As we lead our daily lives, let us search then for his strength and for the depth of his spirit somewhere inside ourselves,” he added a few minutes before the premiere.
“Being a strong freedom-fighter for human rights, independence, equality, friendship and the ideals of a democratic and free society, Nelson Mandela has become the best example and mentor for our future generation. Education, he used to say, is ‘the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ Today in Kazakhstan, we are doing our best to improve this ‘weapon’ as much as we can. Today, on this beautiful evening, we have the unique opportunity to get one step closer to his spirit,” Talgat Narikbayev, rector of Kazakh State Juridical University (KazGYuU), noted in opening remarks.
“This movie is very important and very interesting because it’s a story about [Nelson Mandela] who was an inspirational figure for democracy. He [established] democracy in South Africa and was an example for every country that wants to [obtain] democracy. He was a leader that brought different nationalities together to live in harmony,” Ambassador Dr. Charn Jullamon of Thailand said about the feature.
The show was attended by distinguished guests and dignitaries as well as members of the diplomatic corps, governmental officials, representatives of universities and others.