When Carolyn Projansky was living, working and studying in South Africa, she came upon the stories of white activists who were part of the struggle against apartheid. At the time, it wasn’t a story that other filmmakers seemed interested in telling, so Projansky decided to go it alone.
Projansky decided to start work on the documentary Breaking the Rules five years ago when she heard the story of Helen Suzman, a former opposition MP in South Africa who opposed and fought against apartheid. What struck Projansky about Suzman’s story was that, though the MP opposed apartheid and participated in the efforts to end the system, she was not considered fundamental in the fight because she was simply a reformer and not looking for radical change such as the transformation of government to a majority black-ruled structure.
Working in production while studying history in South Africa, Projansky saw that her filmmaking colleagues in the region weren’t going to pick up the story of white activists anytime soon. ‘There was a very strong push, rightly so, to tell the black stories of the struggle,’ remembers Projansky, who says it wasn’t considered politically correct to do a story about white activists when she started out. ‘But I felt it was not only a story that hasn’t been told, but it was also a story that could eliminate some of the same issues they were dealing with from another angle, because the white activists were motivated by the principles of non-racialism.’
The project has been in an out of production for the past five years, but Projansky and her prodco, Maryland-based Five Star Films, recently received a grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies which will support filming the main characters, which include Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs, dissident Afrikaner journalist Max du Preez and former student activist Kate Philip.
‘It’s one thing to have opposed apartheid or thought it was a bad system, it was another thing to actually step in and take action and make the choice to dedicate your own life to it,’ says Projansky of her subjects.
When the film is finished, Projansky has plans to create an interactive website that will make primary historical research available to students and researchers in future. The site will feature an online version of the film where viewers can delve into different time periods and stories, enabling users to explore 45 years of history in their own ways. She is still looking for funding for the post-production phase of the project and for the website.
Breaking the Rules will be a 90-minute documentary and is anticipated to be released in late 2010.