The BFC/A’s Peter Davis Collection, consisting of films, videos, and related materials documenting Davis’s work in apartheid-era South Africa and beyond, was recently featured in IU International, the news magazine of the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs at Indiana University. The story is also available through the online publication, Inside IU Bloomington.
Davis took this image in Lesotho in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of BFC/A.
As the article states, Davis viewed his films through a political lens:
A 1974 project for the humanitarian agency CARE took Davis to 14 countries in Africa in 28 days. He didn’t set out to observe the difference in the lives of the oppressed and their oppressors in Africa, but seeing it defined his career for the next three decades. Davis produced 12 full-length documentary films of his own and worked on many for other producers, all especially rich in the history of apartheid.
“I never believed that apartheid would be beaten on the battlefield,” Davis wrote in a 2008 article for African Activist Archive Project. “I concluded early on that the critical struggle over apartheid would be above all else a propaganda battle.”
South Africa limited what Davis could film. To get into the country, Davis chose a subject that would appeal to the apartheid censors — the history of the Afrikaners. He called the film White Laager, a reference to the circling of covered wagons that the Boers used to protect themselves as they moved into hostile territory. But the image became a metaphor for a ruling minority constantly trying to keep the conquered at bay, the formerly oppressed becoming oppressors.