Durban Festival: South African Films on the Rise

South African film has come a long way in the past 10 to 15 years, says Durban Film Festival director Peter Machen, and the 35th edition of the fest, which unspools July 17-27, aims to prove it.

African filmmakers, says Machen, are mixing U.S. genres with local idioms, while also imposing a regional identity on European film language. The fest topper contends that Durban’s opening night film, “Hard to Get,” a love story by rising local director Zee Ntuli, set in the gritty underworld of Johannesburg, will show local audiences further evidence that home-grown movies can be just as engaging as Hollywood films.

Ntuli himself promises a fresh perspective. “You are going to see a raw, truthful film with it’s own unique voice,” he says of the pic, produced by Helena Spring and Junaid Ahmed, who are handling a slate of films from previously marginalized black filmmakers. “Hard to Get” also received funding from South Africa’s National Film and Video Foundation and the Dept. of Trade and Industry.

With South Africa celebrating 20 years of democracy this year, the fest has a natural theme — though not all of the films are paeans to the new government. In fact, Rehad Desai’s documentary “Miners Shot Down,” chronicles the 2012 strike staged by low-paid workers in one of South Africa’s biggest platinum mines against the mine’s corporate owner, the African National Congress-led government and the miners’ own union, in which a police crackdown produced tragic results.

Other highlights from the sidebar include Khalo Matabane’s doc “Nelson Mandela: The Myth and Me”; and cinematographer Annalet Steenkamp’s directorial debut, “I, Afrikaner,” an intimate family saga filmed over a nine-year period (she received funding from the Intl. Documentary Fund for Amsterdam as well as from the NFVF).

The whole of Africa is also getting a spotlight, with films such as Narimane Mari’s narrative “Bloody Beans,” an Algerian-French co-production that debuted in Turin, and presents an allegory of Algeria’s struggle for independence as seen through the eyes of a group of children; and Cannes hit “Timbuktu,” Abderrahmane Sissako’s drama that recounts the region’s occupation by militant Islamic rebels in 2012. The pic is making its African premiere at Durban.

Since its inception, the festival has done much to draw attention to African film, and in the past few years has added industry-oriented programs such as Talents Durban (formerly Talent Campus Durban), which brings together 40 filmmakers from 10 different countries in Africa and is presented with the Berlin Festival’s Berlinale Talents; and the Durban FilmMart, a finance/co-production market.

Machen says that while South African filmmaking has been growing in both volume and thematic scope, there are still issues with exhibition and distribution. “We really struggle to get our audience to watch local film,” he says. “I look forward to a time when our strong products will fill the cinemas and stay there for months.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Southland Tales

    Streaming Platform Mubi Partners With Prada on 'Perfect Failures' Film Series

    Specialist streaming service Mubi has teamed up with fashion label Prada’s Fondazione Prada foundation on “Perfect Failures,” a curated selection of movies deemed to have been “widely misunderstood” upon their release. The joint project will launch on both the Mubi platform and the Fondazione Prada’s website on April 5 with U.S. director Richard Kelly’s 2006 flop [...]

  • Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) in

    'Morbius,' 'Ghostbusters' Sequel and More Sony Movies Pushed Back to 2021

    Sony Pictures has pushed back many of its major tentpoles — including “Morbius,” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” “Uncharted” and “Peter Rabbit 2” — to next year, the studio announced on Monday. Jason Reitman’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” has moved from July 10, 2020, to March 5, 2021; Jared Leto’s “Morbius” has been pushed back from July 31, 2020, to [...]

  • Anne Hathaway to Star in 'French

    Film News Roundup: Anne Hathaway Stars in 'French Children Don't Throw Food'

    In today’s film news roundup, Anne Hathaway will portray an American journalist in Paris, blockbuster director Michael Bay signs with Sony Pictures, and “Extra Ordinary” and “The Etruscan Smile” are added to arthouse streaming services. CASTING Anne Hathaway is starring in the movie “French Children Don’t Throw Food,” based on Pamela Druckerman’s autobiographical book, “Bringing [...]

  • Empty movie theater

    Cinemark Cuts Employee Wages Temporarily After Coronavirus Closes Theaters

    Cinemark is temporarily reducing wages for all U.S. employees while its theaters remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. With these measures, workers salaries will be cut by around 50%. All employees are working reduced hours and will still maintain full benefits. Cinemark’s CEO Mark Zoradi and the board of directors are voluntarily forgoing their [...]

  • Lionsgate

    Lionsgate Layoffs Hit Feature Film Marketing and Distribution Department

    Lionsgate has laid off nearly 20 employees, primarily in its feature film marketing and distribution department, sources tell Variety. The cuts had been in the works for months as part of a restructuring and were not influenced by the coronavirus outbreak, Lionsgate said. No other layoffs are currently planned, and most, but not all, were [...]

  • Visions du Réel Reimagined as Digital

    Switzerland's Visions du Réel Reimagined as Digital Only Event

    Visions du Réel, a film festival in Nyon, Switzerland, has changed the format of its next edition to accommodate the restrictions imposed by the Swiss government in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Originally planned to run from April 24 to May 2, the festival will now be a digital-only event held over a longer period, [...]


    SAG-AFTRA Announces Dues Extension Program for Members During Coronavirus Pandemic

    SAG-AFTRA has developed a program to provide dues relief for SAG-AFTRA members during the Covid-19 pandemic with an extension of the May 1 deadline. “Members experiencing financial hardship resulting from work stoppages related to Covid-19 will be granted a due date extension and an installment plan for those payments,” the union said. “As part of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content