Directed by A. A. V. Amasi
Starring Daniel Gonora, Isaac Gonora
Short Film Review by Leonardo Goi
Twenty years ago, the Jairos Jiri were Zimbabwe’s largest touring band. Of the thirty-two band members, twenty-nine have died of AIDS. Daniel Gonora, once the group’s lead singer, is one of the three survivors. Now visually impaired, he plays and sings in the streets of Zimbabwe, accompanied by his talented son and drummer Isaac, hoping to make some money to feed his family.
You Can’t Hide from the Truth, National Film and Television School graduate A. A. V. Amasi’s fourth feature, is a 28-minute long documentary that accomplishes a remarkable task. It portrays the life of a musician fallen from grace and forced to beg on the streets with his son, and yet it depicts their poverty-stricken lives in a way that does not prompt us to suffer for them, but with them.
Daniel and Isaac handle their daily struggles in a stoic, admirable way. They perform for street crowds that are eager to listen to their music, but not to pay for the entertainment. They are forced to play old instruments and improvised drums. And every night they walk home to feed their family before embarking on another day of street performances.
Amasi is no stranger to gritty portraits of Zimbabwe’s poorest. Already in 2012 his Chauya Chauya – A Risky Life had documented the lives of Harare’s prostitutes, and their Sisyphean struggle against AIDS. But in You Can’t Hide from the Truth, the Zimbabwean director puts as much emphasis on Daniel and Isaac’s plight as he does on their willingness to overcome it, and give their family a brighter future.
There’s a powerful moment in which Daniel says that if he could see things, he’d probably be dead as the rest of the Jairos Jiri. But then he immediately adds, “so long as we have instruments, we won’t be lost.” It’s a brief moment of hope, but it encapsulates the constant tension between despair and determination which makes Amasi’s short film documentary stand out as a remarkable work and, ultimately, a life-affirming tale.
You Can’t Hide From the Truth feels more like a family portrait than a critique of Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis, and any reference to Mugabe’s government is deliberately kept out of frame. But the title of Amasi’s fourth feature is ominous, and if the director avoids commenting on the state of affairs of his home country, Daniel’s remarks on the AIDS epidemic are a sad testament that nobody can ever truly hide from the suffering that plagues Zimbabwe’s poorest.
The use of a hand-held camera does wonders to capture the vitality and chaos surrounding Daniel and Isaac’s street performances. And while Daniel is the feature’s centerpiece, the young Isaac is a formidable scene-stealer, and his inextinguishable energy never abandons the duo, even when they seem to have no audience to play for.
You Can’t Hide From the Truth is much more than a documentary about the struggles of a blind musician. It is an intimate portrait of his family, a coming-of-age tale of his talented son, and a powerful reminder of the healing power of art – a delicate and universal parable.