Review: ‘Sunny Land’

The incongruous history of South Africa's famous Sun City resort is explored.

The incongruous history of South Africa’s famous Sun City resort is explored in the just-as-incongruous experimental documentary “Sunny Land,” from German directors Aljoscha Weskott and Marietta Kesting. Set up in the nominally independent homeland of Bophuthatswana in 1979, where South Africa’s restrictions on gambling did not apply, the complex of hotels, casinos and pools attracted a mixed crowd, even during apartheid. Semi-fictional, non-narrative collage approach makes commercial pickups unlikely, but docu fests and art galleries will give this a place under the sun.

Interested in atmospheres, memories and shades of gray — often also visually — the helmers contrast archival footage with newly shot, color-corrected Super 8 material meant to represent people’s memories. Interview footage of a 1992 Miss World participant highlights the absurdity of the place, where glamour exists alongside flagrant human-rights violations and poverty, and Sun City finally emerges as an anomaly in an abnormal environment. A conversation between a fictitious onscreen character (Thato Mathole), shot in HD, and an offscreen narrator (Sampson Zaharkiv) gets ample time but remains enigmatic. Footage quality varies; other tech credits just pass muster.

Sunny Land

Germany

Production

A Bbooksz, Spleen Prods. production. (International sales: Bbooksz, Berlin.) Produced by Stephan Geene, Aljoscha Weskott, Marietta Kesting. Executive producers, Steven Brimelow, Weskott, Kesting. Directed, edited by Aljoscha Weskott, Marietta Kesting. Written by Weskott.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, HD/Super 8), Weskott, Kesting; music, Christian von Boerries, Simon Olivier. English, German, French, dialogue. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 15, 2010. Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Thato Mathole, Helen Bodigelo, Ivan Vladislavic, Simon Fidel, Prudence, Vincent. Narrator: Sampson Zaharkiv.

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