The story begins in the mind of Cashril Plus, a twelve-year-old animator and son of graffiti artist Faith47. Through Cashril's eyes, we see his mother paint the streets and forgotten townships haloing Cape Town. Weaving through the lives of Faith47, Warongx (afro-blues), Emile Jansen (hip hop), Sweat.X (glam rap), Blaq Pearl (spoken word) and Mthetho (opera), the film culminates in an intertwined story. Born into separate areas of a formerly-segregated South Africa, the artists recraft history—and the impacts of apartheid—in their own artistic languages. The lens reveals the impulse behind the artists’ social consciousness, the individuals’ eccentricities, and each creator’s unique form of expression. Diving into the current of subversive art which fuels South Africa’s many clashing and merging cultures, The Creators brings into focus the invisible connections among strangers' disparate lives—and the creative expression used to traverse the divide. The result is an intimate, refreshing, and deeply revealing portrait of those remolding the legacy of apartheid.
A street artist illuminating the forgotten townships haloing South Africa's cities, Faith is a subversive activist creating for public art and a mother painting a new world for her twelve-year-old son. Faith uses the 1955 ANC document, "The Freedom Charter," to inspire murals questioning whether South Africa's post-apartheid government kept its central goals after ascending to power. Painting in townships with levels of violence surpassing all of sub-Saharan Africa, Faith infiltrates the culture on a level that allows her to merge seamlessly with the country’s impoverished majority. The film views Faith through the eyes of her son, aka Cashril Plus: South Africa's youngest genius.
An Afro-blues artist originally from the rural Eastern Cape, Ongx was awarded first place in a national music competition in 2007, winning a record deal with Africa’s largest music production company. When the deal did not turn out as promised, Ongx must play music on the streets, wash dishes and connect illegal electricity in the townships in order to make ends meet. Fighting tooth and nail to sustain himself through his passion, Ongx puts a human face on a devastating social reality in a country with roughly 40% unemployed citizens. Ongx and his best friend Wara form the band Warongx, singing in their traditional language of Xhosa while the world around them turns increasingly towards English pop music. Demonstrating pride in traditional African culture, Ongx and Wara expose the schism between their people’s roots and an increasingly westernized media landscape.
Before leaving his family, Mthetho's father left behind one opera CD, which Mthetho listened to repeatedly while growing up. Soon, Mthetho discovered that he could sing Pavarotti’s arias by memory. Mthetho used his natural talent to teach his friends and support his family until his mother’s death from HIV/AIDS. He then fell into a pattern of crime, enduring multiple stabbings and a burning in gang wars and chance incidents. With a knife scar stretching the length of his cheek, Mthetho is now pulling himself out of gang life, using opera to uplift his mind and support his family. Mthetho was featured on the BBC 7 January 2013 (the BBC spelled his name 'Mthetho Maphoyi') and gave a TedxTeen talk in early 2012 (TedxTeen spelled his name 'Mteto Maphoyi').
As an MC, B-boy and breakdancer from the seminal hip hop group Black Noise, Emile united a generation of youth during the fall of apartheid in the tumultuous eighties and nineties. Emile participated in anti-apartheid protests and school boycotts during his youth, getting shot at by police and witnessing the death of friends fighting to overthrow South Africa's oppressive government. Emile now practices more subversive activism in his community, creating a conscious culture through breakdancing workshops, events and b-boy competitions.
The younger sister of Mr. Devious, a hip hop activist killed amidst gang warfare in their hometown of Mitchell’s Plain, Blaq Pearl’s life is imbued with the struggle between a violent environment and a peaceful core. As a spoken word artist and performer, Blaq Pearl worked in a prison teaching creative writing to inmates where her brother taught before his untimely death. The same prison released her brother’s murderer just months after his incarceration. The killer now lives in the neighborhood next to Blaq Pearl’s family home. In the ten years prior to 2007, four times as many people were murdered in South Africa than Americans killed during the entire Vietnam War. In a country where violence threatens physically and psychologically, Blaq Pearl’s poetry meditates her situation at a level free from the chaos of the streets.
"Spoek Mathambo is a slippery post-apartheid glam-rap prince from Soweto who is descended from distant African royalty, or Jewish, or both" (Fader Magazine). Spoek is one half of Sweat.X, a radical black/white duo from Soweto and Pretoria — arguably polar opposite locations in the world's most polarized economy. Sweat.x exemplifies the growing population of South Africa that is tired of stale, on-the-sleeve activism. Their music leaves the didactic lectures in the past, forging the current, or maybe futuristic, South Africa. Using their music to explore the disconnect with impoverished communities in South Africa’s Karoo, Sweat.X takes reunification into their own hands, leaving overt political protest in the past in favor of a new way for a new age.
The Creators won "Best Documentary" at the National Geographic All Roads Film Festival, "Best Documentary - Music" at the World Music and Independent Film Festival, the Rosebud Award at the Rosebud Film Festival and a Special Jury Mention at the Montreal International Black Film Festival.
The documentary was featured on NPR's Tell Me More and reviewed in the academic journal, African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review. During its fine cut film festival release the documentary was reviewed in "Ceasefire Magazine" by Hana Riaz', Mambo Magazine by Jaki Sainsbury, and in The Huffington Post by Tamar Abrams. Interviews with Director Laura Gamse have been published in Sweden's FlattrChattr, (published by Flattr), Los Angeles' The Student Life and New South Wales' Soul Strategies.
Sainsbury wrote in July 2011, "The Creators proved true art is not restrained by politics or religion — or even life. Expression in this sphere is unrestrained. The film proves that anyone's vision must be developed into its full artistic potential. If there is a message to be told by modern South Africa, it's that art will save your sanity." - Mambo Magazine
Abrams wrote in March 2011, "Given the unrest in the Middle East that fills our television screens each night, The Creators is a worthy companion piece. It shows people who refuse to toe the line, whose music will not be silenced, who use their art to combat brutality and injustice." -The Huffington Post
Executive Producer of Law & Order Ian Biederman wrote that the documentary is "a beautiful and important contribution...to the literature of creativity and its endless capacity to fuel transcendence".
The Creators had its premiere in Europe at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, and screened at film festivals in Africa and North and South America, including the Zanzibar International Film Festival, the Fulbright Academy Film Festival, the Hot Docs Doc Shop, the National Arts Festival, the Texas Black Film Festival, the Encounters International Documentary Festival, the LA Film and Music Weekend, the SF DocFest, the New York Margaret Mead Film Festival, and the Bahamas International Film Festival.