THIS IS NATIONAL WAKE is a kaleidoscopic trip into the world of a multiracial band
that risked everything, in apartheid-era South Africa, to wake up a nation.
In 1979, Johannesburg was a city divided. Apartheid kept its black and white citizens separate and unequal. But in the city’s underground clubs, three young South Africans dared to rebel. This unlikely trio of rockers — two black brothers from Soweto, and a Jewish guitarist from Johannesburg — formed a revolutionary band that broke every law of apartheid to imagine a new way to live.
United by a love of rock and a hatred of racism, National Wake’s talented founders came from vastly different backgrounds, but by learning to love and trust one another, they conceived of National Wake as a way to dance on old South Africa's grave and awaken a new nation. Their rollicking music permeates the film, and immerses viewers in their rock-n-roll utopia.
Focusing on stunning, never-before-seen Super 8 footage the band shot of themselves, THIS IS NATIONAL WAKE traces their story — from the turmoil of the Soweto Uprising; to the group’s creation and the euphoric interracial scene it inspired; to their debut record being smuggled to London and breathlessly exalted before millions on the BBC right after its release on Warner Records.
The film climaxes during their debut at Johannesburg’s hippest club, when apartheid’s cruelty trampled upon their idealism. And under increasing police pressure and raids, they could no longer escape the fact that their lives, art, friendships, romances, even children were criminal acts. National Wake collapsed.
THIS IS NATIONAL WAKE mines the inspiring story of these remarkable men, through the music and memories they made, to comprise a heartbreaking and potent film. Drawing on the band’s will to document themselves and their scene, the film expands on their archive to offer a hard driving film that’s a meditation on memory, social change, and how history is experienced on the ground and in our minds.