Documentary tells story of South African leader

Carleton College professor Cherif Keita is premiering his documentaries in the Twin Cities for the first time.
October 27, 2009

When Carleton College professor Cherif Keita began researching South African leader John Dube, he had no idea the research would lead him back to his Northfield, Minn. home.
Now, 10 years after beginning his research, Keita will debut two documentaries about Dube’s life and accomplishments Wednesday at the Oak Street Cinema .
This is the first time the films are showing in Minnesota.
“This is taking everything full circle,” Keita said, “bridging the gap between the global and the local, the pure intellectual research and the emotional personal journey.”
Dube was the first president of the African National Congress, the organization that led the struggle against apartheid and which Nelson Mandela later ran.
“[Dube] was really a renaissance man,” Keita said. “There was so much about him that intrigued me — he was an educator, a musician, a politician, an author, and just a fascinating man.”
Keita, who is a native of Mali in western Africa, said he became interested in Dube after a 1999 trip to South Africa with students from St. Olaf College and Carleton College, where Keita is a professor of French.
After more extensive research into his life, Keita discovered Dube had been adopted by a Northfield couple and was raised in the Minnesota town where Keita has lived and taught since 1985 with his wife and four children.
“I had no idea this story would have such local connections when I started out,” Keita said.
While making the films, Keita traveled back and forth between Northfield and South Africa, as well as following Dube’s footsteps throughout the United States.
The films, titled “Oberlin-Inanda: The Life and Times of John L. Dube” and “Cemetery Stories: A Rebel Missionary in South Africa,” were made in 2005 and 2009 respectively, and have been honored at numerous film festivals.
“I feel like I have been given the opportunity to literally wake up these people, to bring them back to life and give them a flesh and a presence in today’s world,” Keita said.
The documentaries will be showing at Oak Street Cinema as part of the University of Minnesota’s Global Spotlight program, whose sponsorship allowed Oak Street Cinema to show the films for free, said Ryan Oestreich, program coordinator at the theater.
The staff at Oak Street Cinema is excited to host the event because Keita will be present and will offer a question-and-answer session after the films.
“We love any time we can make an interactive environment with the films and the filmmakers,” Oestreich said.
The Global Spotlight program, run through the University’s Office of International Programs , is focusing on Africa and the issue of water throughout the world this year.
Africa was chosen for the 2009-10 program because the African population has been growing substantially in Minnesota in the past 20 years, said Jennifer Schulz , communications coordinator for the Office of International Programs.
She said there are also many ties with University faculty and research and outreach in Africa.
In mid-November, a representative from South Africa will travel to California, where Dube’s adoptive parents, William and Idabelle Wilcox, are buried, to honor them in a ceremony, Keita said.
“Dube was a groundbreaker and trailblazer because of the guidance he was given by Minnesotans and people who believed that justice has to be for all,” he said.
Keita said the experience of making these films and discovering Dube’s connection to Minnesota pushed him out of his comfort zone, but ended up being a rewarding experience.
“I think Minnesotans can be proud of their role in this man’s life.”

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