“Surfing Soweto”, a film about train-hoppers, will be shown at the Tri-Continental Film Festival

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A documentary, Surfing Soweto, captured the story of three boys who hopped from one speeding train to the next, risking their lives daily for the thrill. by Shanthini Naidoo Three years later, Sara Blecher has produced a feature-length version of the documentary, which tells the Soweto teenagers' story over four years.

"I don't think anyone has done a reality like this over such a long period. The access we got to the boys is unbelievable. We gave them cameras and they filmed themselves surfing," Blecher said.

One of the youths, Bitch Nigga, is rebuilding his life; another, Mzembe, is battling drug addiction but the third, Lefa, was unfortunately killed while train surfing recently. "The film shows how death is truly a part of their lives. There was only a tiny article about his death.

"Life is so cheap for these boys that without this documentary, his death meant nothing but three little lines in the newspaper," she said. Blecher said the film also documents fundamental shortcomings in the youths' lives, especially absent fathers.

"The truth is that absent fathers have become a normality. These boys, like many in South Africa, don't understand the role of a strong male as part of the family structure. They are not taught how to be men before going into society.

If the women weren't overworked, underpaid, battling to cope and trying to raise their kids without enough money, maybe it would be easier. It simply doesn't work, no matter how much these mothers love their children. The odds are so stacked against young, black men growing up in this country. When you see someone make a success of themselves, you don't understand how much goes into that."

Blecher is passionate when she speaks about the young men and said it was difficult not to get involved in their lives. Blecher added that following the first screening at the Durban Film Festival earlier this year, the reaction from people was to talk about the issue and the universal societal problems that the youths faced. "They had a need to talk about it. For me that is the point of films, to spark debate. I'm thrilled with that response and it makes the four years of work worthwhile." The feature-length documentary, Surfing Soweto, will be shown at the Tri Continental Film Festival, starting at cinemas on October 1.