by Pauline Adamek

Year:  2023

Director:  Tebogo Malope

Rated:  PG

Release:  19 July 2024

Running time: 92 minutes

Worth: $14.00
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Africa Film Fest Australia

Siya Kolisi

… paints a vivid portrait of resilience, grit, and the power of sport to transcend racial barriers and harsh oppression.

A sports documentary directed and co-scripted by Tebogo Malope, Rise: Siya Kolisi Story introduces viewers to Siya Kolisi, a South African professional rugby union player who presently captains the South Africa national team.

The opening moments of this hagiographical biopic are engaging — a camera dreamily floats down a rural township’s dusty streets while children play soccer and roll spare tyres. The camera drifts through the doors of a weatherboard shack. We meet the narrator, who recalls the auspicious date of her grandson’s birth and announces that she is blind. These are the humble roots of this rugby legend’s formative years.

News footage gets us caught up on the film’s central subject. We see a selection of talking heads speaking over footage of the rugby star in action, explaining how Kolisi’s rise from poverty to become the first black Springbok captain, has brought with it heroic status. People were telling him that, “No, you can’t make it.” And he kept saying, “No, watch me.” Talking heads opine, “What you get in Siya Kolisi is a true glimmer of hope.” We see fans chanting, “We love you!”

With Siya named captain – marking the first time a black player has captained the Springbok team – this moment proves significant for South Africa, for black people. “He’s meant to lead,” people recall. “When the opportunity came, he was ready. His journey was hard. It was tough. He had to overcome so many challenges.” “Siya’s role was going to be bigger than rugby.”

As a black captain for the first time in the team’s storied history, 28-year-old Kolisi led the Springboks and rose to the peak of a sport long associated with apartheid. We even see Nelson Mandela proclaiming how “sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”

“It was quite tough,” Kolisi recalls. Growing up in the township, playing, training in bare feet. “We learned to use everything around us.” We see he is imbued with a resilient spirit, and instilled with values such as tenacity, and diligence. Kolisi talks about “ubuntu” – defined as a quality that “includes the essential virtues: compassion and humanity.”

He speaks about his upbringing, the joyfulness of growing up as a child in a community where the village raises the next generation. We hear from Fezakele Kolisis, Kolisi’s father, who recalls how life was difficult living under apartheid, which is defined as “the policy of segregation and political, social, sporting and economic discrimination against the non-white majority in the Republic of South Africa.”

We see a transformation from a shy, reserved young boy to a charismatic leader and role model. The documentary doesn’t gloss over the challenges that Kolisi faced as a black player in a predominantly white sport, providing a nuanced perspective on race relations in South Africa and the broader impact of Kolisi’s success on the nation’s cultural psyche.

Eventually, a portrait emerges of not only a superstar in rugby but also of an honest man. The narrative skilfully weaves together key highlights in Kolisi’s career, such as his debut for the Springboks and their historic 2019 World Cup victory. Interspersed with these milestones are intimate interviews with Kolisi himself, as well as with his family, friends, teammates, and coaches — each offering insights into the man behind the high-profile captaincy.

Malope’s documentary chronicles the remarkable journey that this talented athlete took from humble beginnings and a challenging upbringing in the townships of Port Elizabeth to leading the Springboks to their third Rugby World Cup victory in 2019.

The thoughtful and, at times, beautiful documentary blends personal interviews, archival footage, with cinematic reenactments. Rise: Siya Kolisi Story paints a vivid portrait of resilience, grit, and the power of sport to transcend racial barriers and harsh oppression.


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