Durban 2014 Review: Documentary Short THE LAST BOERS OF PATAGONIA Is Sumptuous And Stirring

Stuart Muller, Contributor (South Africa)
Around the turn of the 19th century, a few Boer families - Afrikaner descendants of the original Dutch settlers in what is now South Africa - fled the country to escape persecution by the British during the Anglo-Boer Wars. A ship took them to Argentina, where for over 100 years they have kept their culture and language alive in an isolated pocket of Patagonia. 

The Last Boers of Patagonia documents this astonishing community, who speak an archaic form of Afrikaans that is extinct in modern South Africa, and at risk of disappearing completely as the remote population ages, and subsequent generations increasingly identify with Argentina. Despite the inevitable cultural dilution over time, many remain deeply connected to their South African roots, and even the youngest and most Argentine are proud of their heritage. For many of the elders, who were themselves born in Argentina, South Africa remains the home of their heart, and it is moving to see them lament never having seen the land of their origin, or dream of speaking Afrikaans with their countrymen.

Though we've had a taste thanks to a trailer and a teaser for the eventual feature film documentary The Boers At The End Of The World (previously covered here), the 15-minute short documentary that just screened at the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) was our first opportunity to really get at the flavour of this film, and it is delicious. For the first time we get insight into not just the collection of charismatic characters that populate the screen, but also the academic interest in this unique case as filmmaker Richard Gregory takes a team of linguistics researchers with him to document their unique Afrikaans. 

Despite the brief length, the film is stuffed to the brim with charming, heart-breaking, heart-warming, and downright intimate moments. Combined with the deft camera work and editing, and a sly eye for humour, it gives every indication that the final film will be not just fascinating, but lovely to behold. 

Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give Gregory's gorgeous cinematography is that I had to keep reminding myself it was shot in Patagonia, and not the Karoo interior of South Africa. Both the Karoo and Patagonia are harsh, arid regions with few trees and vast views of often incredible landscapes; the reminiscence is eerie at times, and it is not surprising to see why they chose to settle where they did. 
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