By :
François VERSTER
South Africa, 2009
94 min
Stroll along the strangest strip of land on the continent. An X-ray insight into contemporary South Africa. Walking, swimming, reality, complexity, contradiction, paradox - with no voice over. A festival, innovative masterpiece, beautifully shot in Cape Town.
Alongside the southernmost urban centre in Africa, separating city from ocean, lies an unusual strip of land. The Sea Point Promenade - and the public swimming pools at its centre - forms a space unlike any other in Cape Town.  

Right here, slightly away from the hustle and bustle of the business area, life is most paraded most unapologetically in all its forms… Over-made-up power-walkers speed past homeless persons kissing above the rocks and rent boys waiting for the next pick-up. Trendy teenagers eat ice creams as elderly ladies parade dejected pet dogs on elastic leashes. Black, brown, white, young, old, locals, tourists, rich, poor, Jews, Muslims, Christians, stylish, tasteless – they are all here, arriving from apparently nowhere to join the ritual of walking a man-made path along the sea…

At the core of the Promenade lies the Sea Point Pavilion, a complex of municipal pools built over a large landscaped lawn during the 1920s. Those that go there regularly will adamantly insist that this is “the best pool in the world”. If the Promenade is the place where people from all walks of life parade their identities, the Pool is where these are, in a sense, levelled. As clothes are removed, bodies of all shapes and hues are openly on display – and different races come into close bodily- contact. Bloated pink bodies splash close to small brown ones, visiting European models lie topless on towels close to carefully clad Muslim women overseeing family picnics underneath the stinkwood trees.

Even in the not-so-New South Africa, the type of proximity and interchange amongst very different people found on the Promenade and at the Pool is unique. Personal and interpersonal identities are still far from clear in this country – and here they seem to be negotiated in unusual ways on a daily basis. In this everyman’s land between ocean and city, the most bizarre and unexpected things happen every day.

Using innovative film language, quirky charm and a combination of film formats, this essayistic and often visionary film captures not only the societal blend particular to this part of Cape Town - but also the conflicts and difficulties underlying it. Intimate and original vignettes alternate with powerful scenic shots, archive footage and observations of life, all leading towards a comprehensive and surprising view on what it means to be South African right now…

We meet Law, a young boy who has been evicted from his home with his mother and loves nothing more than rapping and out-dancing the blind man on the street. We listen to Abdoeragiem Field, the filtration man at the Pool, as he explains the life lessons he has learnt from water. 

We follow JP Smith, the ward councilor and head of the campaign to reform Sea Point, as he leads the middle-aged members of the Yellow Bib Campaign walking about the streets, Maltese poodles in tow, staring down prostitutes, drug dealers and homeless people.  He is drunkenly accosted and told off by homeless person and street philosopher Aubrey Ruiters – yet he also elaborates the political complexities around the area. 

Jean Jacoby, an almost-blind granny living at and old-age home on the end of the Promenade, happily attends concerts and exercise programmes, reflects on a long fulfilled life. Kaiser and Xoliswa, two street-savvy pool guards, reflect on the black experience of South Africa today and reveal white patrons’ prejudices.  

Marleen Steinberg, who lives in the apartment building overlooking the pool, believes that she no longer has a place in this country.
The landscape is further set by thousands of Muslim men praying together before spotting the first moon after Ramadan. An octogenarian lady sings Yiddish cabaret songs underneath the shower. 

Through these and more, we experience on the one hand the sheer joy and energy of a place that is brimming with possibility, humanity and great beauty - and on the other, the troubled social forces and ongoing pain that could still push the Sea Point Promenade and Pool in any direction…

SEA POINT DAYS presents a fresh and compelling vision of South Africa through an extraordinary public space in a time of transition. It is a film that explores memory, nostalgia, identity, and the right not only to space but also to belonging and happiness.