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South Africa Banned Film Director Jahmil Qubeka Speaks Out

'I will win this. It's about principle, my reputation,' he tells Variety

When the 34th Durban Intl. Film Festival scheduled his film as opening-night attraction, director Jahmil XT Qubeka knew he would be in the spotlight. But he had no idea how intense and heated that spotlight would turn out to be.

On July 22, four days after the uproar began when the opening was cancelled, Qubeka was still doing back-to-back interviews and, as he spoke with Variety, he was literally being followed by every journalist in the area.

The high-energy and garrulous Qubeka sounded hoarse after all the interviews, and is mulling legal action against the government, not for banning his movie, but for besmirching his name. “I am a father and the ruling of the Film & Publications Board has positioned me as a filmmaker of child pornography. I consider this to be defamation of my character.”

“I will win this. It’s about principle, my reputation. I have a mother and I am a proud son of South Africa.” Qubeka is a Xhosa man and among the greatest traditions of this tribe is the respect for elders, for hierarchy.

He finds added irony that his movie was banned on the birthday of Nelson Mandela, a humanitarian who went to jail fighting for freedom of expression.

The 34-year-old filmmaker  is resolute that the FPB should pay for the slandering of his name. His film, “Of Good Report,” centers on a high-school teacher who becomes obsessed with a 16-year-old student and the FPB refused to allow a public screening, making that decision 28 minutes into the film. The org explained, “The minute there is any element of child pornography, as defined in the Act, the committee has to stop viewing.”

Qubeka is not lacking in self-confidence, and seems relatively insouciant about any potential judgment of his talent as a filmmaker, or storyteller. If anything, the FPB’s refusal to classify his film has spurred him on.

In an interview with Variety before the July 18 scheduled opening, Qubecka said he hoped to wake the “sleeping giant” that is the South Africa film industry. He has succeeded. The banning has stimulated a groundswell of protest in the local entertainment industry, and has taken first position in news reports around the country.

Qubeka grew up in the (former) Republic of Ciskei, an area of the Eastern Cape that was among many “homelands” established by the apartheid government to geographically isolate the black population. Qubeka is not a “born free” (the generation born after democracy), but declares, nevertheless, that he “doesn’t have the weight of apartheid on his shoulders.”

“I was cocooned from it because I grew up in a system that was subsidized by the apartheid government.”

Such “engineered” marginalization also created social division, and his father was part of the so-called elite. Thus, the young filmmaker grew up in a wealthy home, and had the privilege of access to movies. “My father was a cinephile. We constantly watched movies.”

While many young helmers will cite Stanley Kubrick and Fritz Lang as an influence, Qubeka is surprisingly unpretentious and shares that Eddie Murphy movies do it for him, adding, ” ’48 Hours’ is one of my favorite movies.”

Many years ago, when Mandela was exiting a benefit party for him, he mentioned that he enjoyed Eddie Murphy’s films while incarcerated on Robben Island (once the prison authorities permitted the screening of movies in the prison).

Qubeka adds that his inspiration to become a filmmaker was triggered when he watched Mel Gibson’s “Hamlet” video diary.

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