Anant Singh is South Africa's most accomplished film producers. He has been involved with films that include Sarafina, Cry the Beloved Country, Red Dust, I Capture the Castle and the Oscar-nominated Yesterday.
His latest project is a film about Makana Football Association, a football association who organised football leagues while incarcerated as political prisoners by the apartheid South African government on Robben Island. The film entitled, More Than Just a Game is a docu-drama about the power that football had on the island, giving hope and strength to its imprisoned inhabitants. He took time to speak to FIFA.com about the 90 Minutes for Mandela game and his latest work
FIFA.com: How did you find out about this story?
Anant Singh: I was aware that the prisoners on Robben Island played football from my trips there, post Madiba's [Nelson Mandela's] release. However it was when Chuck Korr, a sports historian, came to see me and gave me the background of the details of the story that I really became excited about it and felt that it was an important story to bring to the big screen.
Why is this an important story to tell?
There were hundreds of people on the island, all with a common cause - they were fighting for our freedom. They were incarcerated on this island, which has the beautiful view of Cape Town, the site of the seat of Parliamentary power of the 'white' minority.
Yet these important imprisoned people were able to try to live their lives in dignity in the spirit of good human beings and for people to come together as friends. A very difficult task under tremendously difficult conditions. All they were trying to do was to make South Africa a better place, a place for one man one vote, and the most important aspect of this was that football became a catalyst to this end.
What are the themes or messages you think this story will
On the Island (Robben Island), there were people of different political convictions, different religious beliefs and diverse ethnic backgrounds. They all banded together and tried to survive, enduring some of the harshest conditions known to man, using football as a means to build moral and mutual respect.
You have been involved in many movies and documentaries
about post-apartheid South Africa. What do you think is special
about the Makana Football Association?
The Makana Football Association is unique because it existed in the confines of one of the most brutal prisons in the world. We also produced a film on Robben Island called "Prisoners of Hope" - about the 1 200 former political prisoners, many of whom were football players, and the fact that football was more than just a game was what appealed to us.
What have you learnt about the human spirit in your work
with film? How do you think football feeds into this idea?
Many of the films I have made uphold the highest values of the human spirit. They show how human beings can prevail under trying circumstances. Sport, and football in this case, brings together people in a common quest while also upholding these values and clearly illustrates that humanity can prevail.
You have had a lot of interaction with Nelson Mandela. Do
you think he would approve of and enjoy this film?
Mr. Mandela would certainly approve and enjoy the film as it tells the story of football on Robben Island, an island he spent 27 years on. There is a scene in the film where the communal prisoners see their political leaders in the B Section (the isolation cells for the influential political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela) while playing football and begin interactions with them. When the authorities found out that Mr Mandela and others were watching the games, they built a wall to stop these interactions.
Why do you think FIFA endorsed this movie?
The league on Robben Island was organised according to FIFA rules. This is certainly an achievement as the prisoners, researched the rules of FIFA and implemented them under harsh and trying circumstances. It also embodies the spirit of FIFA's objectives that there should be no racism in sport especially football.
Why the title
More Than Just a Game? Did this have symbolic meaning for
For the prisoners on Robben Island, the game was survival. It gave them the ability to come together and be on the field as friends and as colleagues even though they had different political convictions. The value of football and the game on Robben Island had a lot more at stake than any other activity.