Part documentary, part dramatic re–enactment, “The Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela” is both a story about the African National Congress (ANC) in exile from the perspective of the foot soldiers, and also a son’s journey towards reconciliation with a father. These were the people that Nelson Mandela and the ANC leadership sent out of the country to let the world know about the anti-apartheid movement after Mandela was forced to go underground. During his capture, trail and imprisonment, these men and women kept the movement alive in exile and eventually helped launch the Free Nelson Mandela rallying cry that was shouted across the globe in the 1990s. The film tells the story of the first generation of exiles – their strategy, challenges, successes and cost of keeping true to a vision for over 30-years.
The film is a testament to the legacy that Mandela continues to inspire in the ongoing fight for justice, freedom and equality in all its’ manifestations.
Harris began the film as a tribute to Benjamin Pule Leinaeng, his late stepfather – confronted by his death, Harris embarks on a journey of reconciliation with the man who raised him as a son but whom he could never call “father.” Leinaeng (“Lee”) was an ANC foot soldier, who sacrificed his life for the freedom of his country. As part of the first wave of South African exiles, Lee and his eleven comrades left their home in Bloemfontein in 1960 to broadcast to the world the brutality of the apartheid system and to raise support for the African National Congress (ANC) and its leaders, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. Drawing upon the memories of the surviving disciples and their families, young South African actors portray the harrowing events of the exodus and exile and in so doing, forge their own reconciliation between the generations.
The project soon became a full exploration of one of the most eventful times in South African history, mixed with personal remembrances of Leinaeng’s time in the United States. “Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela” won Best Documentary Awards at the 2006 Los Angeles Pan African Film Festival and the Santa Cruz Film Festival, received Honorable Mention as Audience Favorite at the Bermuda International Film Festival, and was nominated for a 2006 Independent Spirit Award.
“Harris pays tribute to Benjamin Pule Leinaeng, the stepfather who raised him, by traveling to South Africa and excavating the late Leinaeng¹s life as a political activist [in] the ANC and whose real-life exploits play like a James Bond film. Harris¹ trademark elegant visual style (owing much to both high-end fashion magazines and experimental film and photography) is put into the service of dramatic re-creations that flesh out documentary commentary from old friends and political allies, while family photos and home video become potent artifacts in the transformation of grief into celebration” – LA Weekly.
“An important documentary” – The New York Times
“Intensely personal yet historically expansive” – Time Out New York
“Inspiring” -The Tennessean
“Intimate and intriguing. Ó Joanne Weintraub” – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“A fascinating hybrid” – New York Magazine
“Harris’ historical re-enactments are impressively colorful and detailed” – New York Press
“…represents a strong calling card for U.S.-born helmer Thomas Allen Harris” -Variety
– Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Documentary Film – Roxbury Film Festival
– Best Documentary – Pan African Film Festival
– Best Documentary – Santa Cruz Film Festival
– Revolution Award – Imagenation Festival
– Honorable Mention as Audience Favorite – Bermuda International Film Festival
– Independent Spirit Award Nomination – Truer Than Fiction Category
– 2005 Toronto International Film Festival – World Premiere
– 2005 MACUFE Festival, Bloemfontein – African Premiere