The 36th Durban Intl. Film Festival begins July 16 with “Ayanda,” by South African helmer Sara Blecher, a feel-good pic from a local fan favorite and a strong slate of African films that have already shown legs on the foreign festival circuit.

Festival runs July 16-26.

This year’s DIFF will see more than 200 screenings in nine venues across the scenic seaside city, including 74 feature films, 50 docs, and 74 shorts, as well as a host of workshops and seminars gathering industry professionals from around the world.

Promoting local content remains a goal for fest organizers, and this year the host nation will screen 14 feature films, 13 docs, and 30 shorts — most of them receiving their world premieres in Durban.

Yet despite growing output—and a booming locations industry spurred by the success of “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Mad Max: Fury Road”—the local biz is still struggling to cash in at the box office. Of the top 10 grossing films over the July 4 weekend, just one was South African, and the National Film and Video Foundation estimated that local movies accounted for just 6% of total B.O. last year—down from 11 percent the year before.

Fest director Pedro Pimenta, at the helm of DIFF for the first time, pointed to opener “Ayanda” as a reflection of “a clear priority established by the festival to reach and develop local audiences.

“While the industry has been successfully structured and supported from all quarters to allow a regular flow of South African content,” says Pimenta, “much still needs to be done for this content to reach local audiences.”

Blecher is well-known to Durban. Her first feature, “Otelo Burning,” opened the 2011 edition of DIFF to critical acclaim, and “Ayanda”—an upbeat, coming-of-age story set in Johannesburg—was part of the 2013 Durban FilmMart, one of five films in this year’s fest to have benefited from the annual co-production and finance forum.

Fest organizers hope that the DIFF platform—and the growing importance of the FilmMart—will continue to facilitate cooperation across African borders, and to insure that African films, such as this year’s foreign-language film Oscar nominee “Timbuktu,” make an impact on the global stage.

Among this year’s lineup at DIFF are a number of international co-prods to illustrate that trend, including “The Boda-Boda Thieves” (Kenya-Uganda-South Africa-Germany), which preemed in this year’s Berlinale Forum; “Crumbs” (Spain-Ethiopia-Finland), which bowed in Rotterdam; “Ladygrey” (France-Belgium-South Africa), which had its debut in the Miami film fest; “Run” (Ivory Coast-France), which bowed in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard; and “Things of the Aimless Wanderer” (Rwanda-U.K.), which preemed in Sundance.

A side program focusing on Brazilian film will also highlight growing interest in south-south collaborations, with increased overtures from bizzers in both South Africa and Brazil in recent years raising hopes that the two regional giants could ink a formal treaty in the near future.

“We hope that this will be the first of Brazil’s growing participation at the DIFF, and we look forward to closer bilateral relations between South Africa and Brazil through co-productions, distribution of films, and cultural relations,” says Carla Osório, who curated the Brazilian focus.

Other fest highlights include the sixth Durban FilmMart, which offers filmmakers from across Africa a chance to pitch their projects to potential financiers, distribs, sales agents and co-producers, and has supported more than 80 African co-prods since its inception in 2010; and the eighth Talents Durban, presented in cooperation with Berlinale Talents, which will bring together 40 emerging filmmakers from 10 African nations for a series of master classes, workshops, and industry networking events during the festival.

The Durban film fest runs from July 16-26.

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