Angels in Exile is a gripping and graphic documentary about the lives of street kids in Durban, South Africa. The creator Billy Raftery was a student at the time when he first travelled to Durban to go surfing. When he arrived at the beach he found that it wasn’t the waves that mesmerized him. He was alarmed at the amount of homeless children there were, which inspired him to document them.
Immediately Raftery begins the documentary by asking the kids how they ended up on the streets, despite the straight forward approach, the bluntness of the kids is hard hitting and lets you know this wasn't made for the faint hearted.
Both Ariel and Zuleika have resorted to the streets for freedom from their turbulent lives at home. Ariel is often beaten by his step grandparents and Zuleika was raped by her step father and later found out she had contracted HIV from him too. We follow their separate lives for eight years and the twists and turns their lives take actually made me research if this was a mockumentary or perhaps based on a novel. But no, I was surprised and saddened to find out it was all real.
Raftery does his best to layer both of his subjects, he doesn’t just document their activity on the streets but visits their homes too so we get a better understanding of them. He doesn’t shy away from the violence of Durban, his willingness to put himself in dangerous situations is unquestionably commendable.
Since most of the social workers are former street kids themselves, they are empathetic with the children and empower them by letting them make their own decisions. Not only does their involvement in the documentary help us get a better understanding of the kids but they are also living proof that the kids can turn their lives into something positive.
We see Arial and Zuleika's trials and tribulations, we are filled with hope at the idea that they are going to be safe, only to have it snatched away and find them in a position ten times worse than they were before.
Charlize Theron narrates the documentary, which admittedly was the head turner for me, but as the documentary went on it wasn’t important who was narrating as I found myself being drawn in by the life's of these children. Raftery gives us an objective and honest look at Durban live for children, with no sentimentality or manipulation, but rather just as it is. Raftery connects social activism with storytelling and film-making and has made something extraordinary.
Angels in Exile is playing at the East End Film Festival. Catch it tonight. Buy tickets here!