Opening on July 18, the Durban Intl. Film Festival now ranks as one of the longest running, biggest and fastest growing of major African film events and a burgeoning platform for business in South Africa and beyond.
And if Durban’s 34th edition says anything about new film production in Africa, it’s “a sense of renewal of African cinematic language,” said new festival manager Peter Machen.
In this sense, the choice of Jahmil XT Qubeka’s grisly “Of Good Report” as a curtain raiser was a statement of intent. Shot in b/w, laced by literary references — John Keats’ “Bright Star,” “Othello” are two — and described by Qubeka as a “cinephile’s passionate homage” to classic film noir, “Report” charts a English teacher’s discombobulated and soon increasingly demented obsession for a lively student with whom he begins an affair.
For Machen, “This year’s African and South African films have a freshness to them, are engaged in exploring new ways of making films.”
“Report” is “far from the Hollywood-style narratives” which often dominate local productions, Machen added, also citing Nick Reding’s Kenya’s “It’s Us,” a peace movement agit-prop film combining theater and on-location fiction, and “Tall as a Baobab Tree,” a Senegal-set forced marriage tale, which both avoid “conventional dramatic mechanisms.”
Of other recent departures for South African cinema, Durban’s “Blood Tokoloshe,” is a near no-cost township horror B movie, from South Africa’s Orange Farm.
Clocking up 40 distribution deals for Edward Noeltner’s Cinema Management Group, 3D “Khumba” weighs in at Durban as the flagship of South Africa’s burgeoning animated feature industry, plus Triggerfish Animation Studios’ follow-up to DIFF 2012 best South African film winner “Adventures in Zambezia.”
This year’s African Focus titles often turn on violence.
For Machen, however, “what is significant is the really large proportion of films about people who have made mistakes.”
In “Layla Fourie,” the third film from South African-born and Berlin-based Pia Marais whose debut, “The Unpolished,” shared Durban’s best first feature plaudit in 2007, a young polygraphist tries to assuage her guilt after a hit-and-run car accident.
Another buzzed-up title, Belfast-based Phil Harrison’s “The Good Man,” is set in the two post-conflict societies of Northern Ireland and South Africa.
“Something Necessary,” from the Tom Tykwer-backed One Fine Day Films and Nairobi’s Ginger Ink, recounts a love affair in the aftermath of Kenya’s 2007 violence.
“These are films about people coming to terms with violence as opposed to films just chronicling it,” Machen said.
“It might have something to do with a global society attempting to acknowledge and confront reality, rather than letting it push past us.”
Durban closes with “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners,” Shola Lynch’s review of the kidnapping which brought academic and social activist Angela Davis to fame in 1970.
Peppered by world premieres, Durban’s African Focus remains its centerpiece. Other sections range over the globe, from American Independents to Contemporary Europe, Sexual Identities, Zombiefest! World Cinema and Feast of Doccies.
Durban’s main 24-title competition features prestige arthouse and crossover titles, such as, of African titles, “Layla Fourie,” and, beyond Africa, “Only God Forgives,” Chilean Sebastian Lelio’s “Gloria,” and “The Past,” from Iran’s Asghar Farhadi.
Bowing in 1979 when it operated as a semi-underground event screening films banned under South Africa’s apartheid regime, the Durban Film Festival saw spectacular last-decade growth under Monica and Peter Rorvik.
Pursuing strategic partnerships, it added a parallel Wavescape Surf Film Festival in 2005, then Talent Campus Durban, teaming with the Berlinale, in 2008.
Organized with the Durban Film Office, the Durban FilmMart (DFM), a finance and co-production forum and master-class and networking event, launched in 2010. This year it will showcase 23 projects from Africa.
Non-African attendees to DIFF were in single figures early last decade. Last year, there were hundreds of invited guests from around the world. DIFF admissions ran at 32,000 last year, per Machen.
“32,000 is really quite a significant number for South Africa, where much of the population lives in townships or areas without access to cinema theaters,” said Joanna Sterkowicz, editor of Screen Africa.
Appointed in April, and a DIFF programmer for seven years, Machen certainly doesn’t want “to fix something that isn’t broken.”
New initiatives are select: a Zombiefest! spread, a first Wild Talk sidebar of nine natural history films, put on with Durban Wild Talk Africa, and a new The Films That Made Me repertory section, presented this year by Qubeka.
“African film-makers have difficult access to film history, Machen explained.
For the future, he would like to make Durban “more of a red-carpet event,” he added. He will certainly continue to bus in school children for early morning screenings.
“Many of these kids have never been in a cinema before. Watching movies with them is amazing, they’re so engaged, so caught up, attentive. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.”
34TH DURBAN INTL. FILM FESTIVAL LINEUP
FILMS IN COMPETITION
“Closed Curtain,” (Jafar Panahi, Kamboziya Partovi, Iran)
“Fat Shaker,” (Mohammad Shirvani, Iran, 2013)
“Francine,” (Melanie Shatzky, Brian M. Cassidy, U.S., Canada)
“Gloria,” (Sebastián Lelio, Chile, Spain)
“Halley,” (Sebastian Hoffmann, Mexico, The Netherlands)
“Laurence Anyways,” (Xavier Dolan, Canada, France)
“Layla Fourie,” (Pia Marais, Germany, South Africa, France, The Netherlands)
“Of Good Report,” (Jahmil XT Qubeka, South Africa)
“Only God Forgives,” (Nicolas Winding Refn, France, Denmark)
“Penumbra,” (Eduardo Villanueva, Mexico)
“Something Necessary,” (Judy Kibinge, Germany, Kenya)
“Sunshine Boys,” (Kim Tae-Gon, South Korea)
“Tall As The Baobab Tree,” (Jeremy Teicher, Senegal, U.S.)
“The Battle of Tabato,” (Joao Viana, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal)
“The Forgotten Kingdom,” (Andrew Mudge, Lesotho, South Africa)
“The Future,” (Alicia Scherson, Chile, Germany, Italy, Spain)
“The Grandmaster,” (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong SAR China)
“The Hunt,” (Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark)
“The Land of Hope,” (Sion Sono, Japan, U.K., Taiwan, Germany)
“The Past,” (Asghar Farhadi, France, Italy)
“Wadjda,” (Al-Mansour Haifaa, Saudi Arabia, Germany)
“Watchtower,” (Pelin Esmer, France, Germany, Turkey)
“Yema,” (Djamila Sahraoui, Algeria, France)
“Youth,” (Tom Shoval, Israel, Germany, France)
“Of Good Regard,” (Jahmil XT Qubeka, South Africa)
“Free Angela – and all political prisoners,” (Shola Lynch, U.S., France)
“Layla Fourie,” (Pia Marais, Germany, South Africa, France, Netherlands)
“The Forgotten Kingdom,” (Andrew Mudge, South Africa, Lesotho)
“Felix,” (Roberta Durrant, South Africa)
“The Good Man,” (Phil Harrison, South Africa, U.K., Ireland)
“Everyman’s Taxi,” (Ian Roberts, South Africa )
“Durban Poison,” (Andrew Worsdale, South Africa)
“Khumba,” (Anthony Silverston, South Africa )
“Blood Tokoloshe,” (Jordan Harland, South Africa )
“Angel of the Skies” (Christopher Lee-Dos Santos, South Africa)
“Actorholic,” (Oliver Rodger, South Africa)
“African Gothic,” (Gabriel Bologna, U.S., South Africa)
“Tall As The Baobab Tree,” (Jeremy Teicher, Senegal)
“Yema,” (Djamila Sahraoui, Algeria)
“Virgin Margarida,” (Licinio Azevedo, Mozambique, France, Portugal)
“The Battle of Tabato,” (Joao Viana, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal )
“Le Presidente,” (Jean-Pierre Beloko, Cameroon, Germany)
“Something Necessary,” (Judy Kibinge, Germany, Kenya )
“It’s Us,” (Nick Reding, Kenya)
“Ginger and Rosa,” (Sally Potter, U.K., Denmark )
“The Look of Love,” (Michael Winterbottom, U.K.)
“Me and You,” (Bernardo Bertolucci, Italy)
“Wrong,” (Quentin Dupieux, U.S., France)
“Spring Breakers,” (Harmony Korine, U.S.)
“Francine,” (Brian M. Cassidy, Melanie Shatzky, U.S., Canada)
“The Place Beyond The Pines,” (Derek Cianfrance, U.S.)
“Vic + Flo Saw a Bear,” (Dennis Cotes, Canada)
“Valentine Road,” (Marta Cunningham, U.S.)
“Interior. Leather Bar.,” (James Franco, Travis Mathews, U.S.)
“Laurence Anyways,” (Xavier Dolan, Canada)
“Dust, ” (Adam Dugas, Casey Spooner, U.S.)
“Two Mothers,” (Anne Zohra Berrached, Germany)
“The Future,” (Alicia Scherson, Chile, Germany, Italy, Spain)
“It Felt Like Love,” (Eliza Hittman, U.S.)
“Una Noche,” (Lucy Mulloy, U.S., U.K., Cuba)
“Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer,” (Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkik, Russia, U.K.)
“I Am Divine,” (Jeffrey Schwarz, U.S.)
“Born This Way,” (Shaun Kadlec, Deb Tullmann, U.S., Cameroon)
“Evil Dead,” (Fede Alvarez, U.S.)
“Zombie Fever 3D,” (Kirill Kemnits, Russia)
“Halley,” (Sebastian Hoffmann, Mexico, Netherlands)
“Frankenstein’s Army,” (Richard Raaphorst, Netherlands, U.S. )
“Harold’s Going Stiff,” (Keith Wright, U.K.)
“The Grandmaster,” (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong)
“Closed Curtain,” (Jafar Panahi, Iran)
“Cosmopolis,” (David Cronenberg, France, Canada)
“Outrage Beyond,” (Takeshi Kitano, Japan)
“The Hunt,” (Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark)
“The Past,” (Ashgar Farhadi, France, Italy)
“Midnight’s Children,” (Deepa Mehta, Canada, U.K.)
FEAST OF DOCCIES
“The Devil’s Lair,” (Riaan Hendricks, South Africa)
“Touching The Dragon,” (Damon Foster, Craig Foster, South Africa)
“Angels in Exile,” (Billy Raftery, South Africa)
“The Creators,” (Laura Gamse, Jacque de Villiers, South Africa, U.S.)
“Drama Consult,” (Dorothee Wenner, Germany, Nigeria)
“African Metropolis,” (Various, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast)
“The Spirit of ’45,” (Ken Loach, U.K.)
“More Than Honey,” (Markus Imhoof, Germany, Austria, Switzerland)
“Algorithms,” (Ian McDonald, India)
“Fidai,” (Damien Oumouri, France, Algeria, Kuwait, Qatar, China, Germany, U.K.)
WAVESCAPE SURF FILM FESTIVAL
“Bending Colors (Jordy Smith),” (Kai Neville, South Africa, Reunion, Hawaii, Indonesia)
“Revolution,” (Rob Stewart, 15 countries)
“The Heart and the Sea,” ( Nathan Oldfield, Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain)
“Immersion,” (Tim Bonython, Australia, Tahiti)
“Desert Rebels,” (Adrian Charles, South Africa)
“Water From The Moon,” (Arya Subyakto, Sumatra)
THE FILMS THAT MADE ME
“Mapantsula,” (Oliver Schmitz, South Africa, U.K.)
“Ran,” (Akira Kurosawa, Japan, France )
“Midnight Cowboy,” (John Schlesinger, U.S.)
“Quest For Fire,” (Jean Jacques Annaud, Canada, France)
“Koyaanisqatsi,” (Godfrey Reggio, U.S.)
WILD TALK DOCUMENTARIES
“2 Wings Many Prayers,” (Lloyd Ross, South Africa)
“A Return To The Sea,” (Otto Whitehead, Lauren De Vos, South Africa)
“A Wild Dog’s Tale,” (Richard Matthews, Brad Bestelink, Botswana, South Africa)
“Amazing Grace,” (Rowan Pybus, Zambia)
“Bidder 70,” (Beth Gage, George Gage, U.S.)
“Broken Tail,” (John Murray, Colin Stafford-Johnson, Ireland)
“Natural World: Queen Of The Savannah,” (Verity White, U.K.)
“Radioactive Wolves,” (Klaus Feichtenberger, Austria)
“Ten Quintillion,” (Romilly Spiers, Australia)
“The Animal Communicator,” (Craig Foster, Swati Thiyagarajan, South Africa)
“The Arctic Giant,” (Adam Schmedes, Denmark)
“The Beauty of the Irrational,” (Dean Leslie, South Africa)
“The Unlikely Leopard,” (Beverly Joubert, Dereck Joubert, Botswana)
“Treibjagd,” (Christiane Hitzemann, Germany)
“36,” (Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, Thailand)
“Comrade Kim Goes Flying,” (Kim Gwang Hun, Nicholas Bonner, Anja Daelemans, Belgium, U.K., North Korea)
“Great Expectations,” (Mike Newell, U.K.)
“Mobile Home,” (Francois Pirot, France, Belgium)
“No,” (Pablo Larrain, Chile, France, U.S.)
“Rust and Bone,” (Jacques Audiard, France, Belgium)
“The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” (Mira Nair, India, Pakistan, U.S.)
“Bomb It 2,” (Jon Reiss, U.S.)
“Captain Kang,” (Won Ho-Yeon, South Korea)
“Casting By,” (Tom Donahue, U.S.)
“Chickens Can Fly,” (Paulene Abrey, Luaan Hong, South Africa)
“Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story,” (Brad Bernstein, U.S.)
“I Am Breathing,” (Emma Davie, Morag McKinnon, Denmark)
“Jeppe On A Friday,” (Shannon Walsh, Arya Lalloo, South Africa, Canada)
“Light and Dark,” (Paulene Abrey, South Africa)
“My Afghanistan: Life In The Forbidden Zone,” (Nagieb Khaja, Denmark, Norway)
“No Burqas Behind Bars,” (Nima Sarvestani, Sweden)
“Norman Catherine Curriculum Vitae,” (Paulene Abrey, South Africa)
“Orania,” (Tobias Lindner, Germany, South Africa)
“Salma,” (Kim Longinotto, U.K., India)
“State 194,” (Dan Setton, Israel, Palestinian Territories, U.S.)
“The Absent Column,” (Nathan Eddy, Filipe Lima, U.S.)