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Durban Film Festival Kicks Off With Big Lineup of African Works

The 38th Durban International Film Festival kicks off Thursday, with a big lineup that reflects its location and status as South Africa’s longest-running film fest.

Of the 225 features, short films and docs being screened from July 13 to 23, more than half come from Africa, underscoring the festival’s vital role as a platform for the local industry. Seventy-four are South African productions, and another 40 come from elsewhere on the continent.

Chipo Zhou, the newly appointed manager of the seaside fest, said the program speaks to the “riveting and diverse content” coming out of South Africa today.

“The range of content shows the assortment of originality that is currently within the industry,” she said, calling it “an indication that the South African industry is on the right track.”

The festival opens with the world premiere of “Serpent” (pictured), a psychological thriller and feature debut from South African writer-director Amanda Evans. The closing-night film is also a world premiere: “Asinamali!”, the big-screen adaptation of playwright Mbongeni Ngema’s iconic anti-apartheid musical, directed by Ngema.

Local director John Trengrove’s moving LGBT drama “The Wound,” which opened the Berlinale’s Panorama section in February, will have its highly anticipated South African premiere in competition in Durban.

Among other highlights is a special focus on women in the film industry, who “have always contributed to the industry in significant ways and are only now starting to get the recognition they so richly deserve,” Zhou said.

Standouts include “Liyana,” an animated documentary inspired by orphaned children in Swaziland, directed by Amanda and Aaron Kopp and executive produced by Thandie Newton; “Below Her Mouth,” Canadian writer-director April Mullen’s Toronto-premiered romance, shot by an entirely female crew; and “Strike a Rock,” a documentary about two women fighting for justice in the wake of South Africa’s 2012 Marikana mining massacre.

“The idea is to have a space where women feel their work will get the showcase it deserves,” said Zhou, “a platform where their issues are discussed…and solutions formulated to help the process of integration within the industry.”

When the work of women is celebrated in Durban, she added, “the whole world listens.”

Country spotlights at the festival will focus on the film industries of Kenya, Russia, Germany, and Canada, which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its co-production treaty with South Africa. The Wavescape Surf Film Festival, a popular Durban sidebar, will also return for its 12th edition, featuring 19 films from 10 countries about adventures in the deep blue sea.

Durban will also play host to a wide-ranging industry program that highlights the festival’s ongoing support for filmmaking initiatives from across Africa. The eighth annual Durban FilmMart will feature 22 projects whose creators have been selected to meet with a range of international financiers, co-producers, and distributors. The four-day program concludes July 17 with prizes to the best works-in-progress awarded by festival partners that include the Sundance Institute, the Hot Docs-Blue Ice Group, and the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA).

Also, Talents Durban, in cooperation with Berlinale Talents, will celebrate its 10th edition by bringing together 30 filmmakers from 19 African countries for a series of workshops, master classes, and networking opportunities with industry professionals.

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