Close to Home

Seen on Oct 14, 2015, RU TV Documentary Festival, Grahamstown

The red carpet has been trotted by numerous students and other curious conversation partners for the 10th edition of the RU TV Documentary Festival were last year’s students of the School for Journalism showcase their work that was made from scratch, through long nights. Of course there is a sense of excitement amidst the fake hair and a multitude of selfies on display tonight. But in all this glamour there are some personal, intimate and pertinent dialogues of big questions at work in the South Africa of now.

Close to Home becomes a hopeful attempt to break the stereotypes of gangsterism being the only way growing up in the Cape Flats. Rhea MacDonald, Laura Skippers and Louise Fuller portray a personal and intimate mother – son relationship where the missing father becomes a story of the missing brother. That journey is filmed as the three girls follow Grant Porthen as he drives through the streets of Athlone, Cape Town, indicating where names where his and his gang mates’ names were graphitised on the walls, explaining what it means to lose your numbers and other grown up boys in the streets explain what it means to belong to a gang, a sense of family stronger than blood ties and how you can’t cry in prison if you do not want to be broken. Not foreseeing your own brokenness when you get arrested and dare to look in the mirror. Sharon, Grant’s mother, has to practice tough love as she no longer recognizes her son, lost to drugs, dealing. That involves a lot of letting go to the point of burying a picture of her son as a child in a box and offering a pertinent prayer. That love again come through when mother Sharon bonds her house to bail out her son from prison. She is still paying off. Grant slumbers through the streets and rehearses his speech. He has no place to stay. Whilst his sister and mother are warm inside and have hot food and blankets, he ends up sleeping in a rusted car outside. Will he continue building his empire or go home? When he hears “ Jesus saves” he wonders whether he is too high on tic.

With his last money he buy some soccer shoes. Through his involvement in a soccer there is male mentorship. His newfound life seems unbelievable at first, but when Sharon is diagnosed with cancer Grant’s new life as a protector of the family turns into new conversations and a new bond between mother and son shines as a beacon of hope. And the past gets restored.

Close to Home is a remarkable, hopeful documentary of love and family and is very brave in its radical portrayal of a life that refuses to be boxed in by gangsterism as the only way to survive.

Close to Home by Rhea MacDonald, Laura Skippers & Louise Fuller, RUTV & Introspection Productions, 2015