DURBAN — “The Reports on Sarah and Saleem,” directed by Muayad Alayan, scooped best picture at the 39th Durban Intl. Film Festival, which wrapped Saturday night with an award ceremony at the Suncoast Cine Center complex.
The film tells the story of the political ramifications of an extra-marital affair between a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman. Variety described it as a “taut psychosocial drama.”
In a pre-recorded message from Jerusalem, Alayan offered thanks to the audience in South Africa – a country, he said, “which we as Palestinians hold in a very special place in our hearts” – while dedicating the award to “all the filmmakers out there in this world who are fighting all forms of injustice with their films and their art.”
The award punctuated a DIFF whose 2018 edition “had a very special focus on hearing and seeing the marginal voices, with a focus on celebrating diversity,” according to Lliane Loots, speaking on behalf of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Center for Creative Arts, which manages the festival.
“There’s been a very special focus on voices of women…and other marginalized identities find[ing] a platform to be heard. The focus has offered some wonderful levels of controversy and some fierce criticism, and also some ferocious dialogue. And we love all of it.”
She continued, “Spaces for artists…are places for controversy. They are spaces that push boundaries and push tolerance. Remember that none of us will be of one mind around what is good, bad, or even mediocre filmmaking, around who is included or excluded. But I am grateful that we will all be of one heart.”
It was something of a rallying cry for a festival that’s been faced with a leadership crisis in recent years, and which received a scare when DIFF manager Chipo Zhou was hospitalized just weeks before opening night. Durban Film Office head Toni Monty has been widely credited with almost willing this year’s fest into being, even while balancing her own responsibilities at the helm of the successful Durban FilmMart.
This week in Durban, Monty was resolute about the future of DIFF, telling Variety that “there will be some positive news in the coming months that will bring confidence to the industry that things are moving forward in a positive direction.”
Loots’ closing words, meanwhile, were a reminder that a festival born out of the anti-apartheid struggle remains a vital platform for South African filmmakers. “No matter what our different opinions are, spaces like DIFF need to survive to support and nurture and promote the critical voices of our nation’s filmmakers,” she said.
The festival closed with the South African premiere of “Rafiki,” by Wanuri Kahiu, which world premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard this year.
Also on Saturday night, the award for best South African feature film went to “High Fantasy,” directed by Jenna Bass and produced by David Horler and Steven Markovitz. The jury heralded it as “a unique film that we found surprising and challenging,” while celebrating it “for its originality and innovativeness in cinematic approach.”
Best documentary went to “New Moon,” produced and directed by Philippa Ndisi-Hermann, described by the jury as “a poetic, well-edited, soul-searching documentary,” whose director “bravely bar[ed] herself as the central subject character that many a woman in today’s cynical and fast-paced world can totally relate to.”
The prize for best South African documentary went to “Sisters of the Wilderness,” directed by Karin Slater and produced by Ronit Shapiro, “a film which dares to leave the beaten pack of traditional documentary filmmaking in exploring the cinematic wilderness,” according to the jury’s citation.
In other awards:
Constantin Popescu, (“Pororoca.”)
Liviu Marghidan, (“Pororoca.”)
“The Tale,” (Jennifer Fox)
Bogdan Dumitrache, (“Pororoca.”)
Maisa Abd Elhadi, “The Reports on Sarah and Saleem.”
Anne Fabini, Alex Hall, Gary Level (“The Tale.”)
Artistic Bravery Prize (Awarded by the South African Film and Publications Board)
“High Fantasy,” (Jenna Bass)
“Supa Modo,” (Likarion Wainaina)
Best South African Short Film
“Stillborn,” (Jahmil X. T. Qubeka)
The Best African Short Film Prize
“Aya,” (Moufida Fedhila)
Best Short Film
“The Patience of Water,” (Guillem Almirall)
Audience Choice Award
“The State Against Mandela and the Others,” (Nicolas Champeaux, Gilles Porte)
Amnesty International Durban Human Rights Award
“Silas,” (Anjali Nayar, Hawa Essuman)
Best Wavescape Surf Film Festival Film
“Heavy Water,” (Michael Oblowitz)