DURBAN–“Les Misérables,” French director Ladj Ly’s riveting portrayal of racial division and unrest in the banlieues of Paris, won best picture at the 40th Durban Intl. Film Festival Tuesday night.
The jury described the film, which shared the jury prize in Cannes this year, as “a searing portrait of modern France which takes on issues of police brutality, racial tension, and of generations who keep repeating the same mistakes,” heralding its “raw power and complex ideas” while calling it “a piece of bravura filmmaking.” “Les Misérables” also won the award for best screenplay.
Ly’s incendiary film set the tone for a closing ceremony that, as it commemorated DIFF’s 40th edition, offered a reminder that a festival born in a spirit of protest against the injustices of apartheid still had a vital role to play in the shaping of the South African and African conscience.
“DIFF has taken tonight to honor the truth-tellers that we feel have tapped into the zeitgeist of our 2019 seismic moment,” said Lliane Loots, acting director of the Center for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which manages the festival.
Loots praised the filmmakers gathered at Tuesday’s award ceremony “for bringing light into covered places, for showing us that beauty does still exist, and for asking us to expect more from our art, and thus from ourselves, as a nation, as a continent, that is still reeling and healing from histories of pain and hurt.”
The best director award went to Brazil’s Gabriel Mascaro, for his dystopian near-future drama “Divine Love.” The award for best South African film went to “Back of the Moon,” the noir-inspired portrait of 1950s Sophiatown, directed by Angus Gibson.
The festival also handed out Legacy Awards to longtime Center for Creative Arts director Peter Rorvik, who was a steady hand at the helm of the festival for more than a decade, and Julie Frederikse and Madoda Ncayiyana, the producer and director of “Izulu Lami,” widely considered to be the first film shot in the Zulu language. A Legacy Award was also shared by Roz Sarkin and Moosa Moosa, who co-founded the Durban film festival.
Accepting the award on behalf of his late father, who also founded the pioneering Avalon Cinema chain, AB Moosa paid tribute to the risks that were taken to get the festival off the ground. “Many of the films under the guise of the film festival would have normally been banned by the apartheid government,” he said, adding that ninety percent of the family’s business was expropriated as punishment for the role it played in the anti-apartheid struggle.
Moosa concluded by sharing a story that illustrated how film and protest in South Africa have long gone hand in hand. It began with a late-night knock on his father’s door, when the political activist Barney Desai – father of the acclaimed documentary filmmaker Rehad Desai – arrived to hand over the keys to Avalon’s Cape Town cinema. Desai was on the run from the apartheid police, and Moosa’s grandfather had arranged for him to be smuggled out of the port in Durban.
Desai vanished into exile, and when he returned years later, the Moosa family was there to greet him—what AB Moosa described as “a wonderful feeling.”
He added: “This is in memory of those heroes that did wonderful work.”
Here is a complete list of Tuesday’s awards:
Best Cinematography: “Divine Love,” directed by Gabriel Mascaro
Best Short Film: “Acid,” directed by Just Philippot
Best Actor: Bongile Mantsai for “Knuckle City”
Best Screenplay: “Les Misérables,” directed by Ladj Ly
Best South African Short Film: “Miracle,” directed by Bongi Ndaba
Best Documentary: “For Sama,” directed Edward Watts and Waad al-Kateab
Best African Short Film: “Brotherhood,” directed by Meryam Joobeur
Best Editing: “Cronofobia,” directed by Francesco Rizzi
Best Actress: Nisrin Erradi for “Adam”
Best Direction: “Divine Love,” directed by Gabriel Mascaro
Best South African Documentary: “Buddha in Africa,” directed by Nicole Schafer
Amnesty International Durban Human Rights Award at DIFF 2019: “For Sama,” directed by Edward Watts and Waad al-Kateab
Best Feature Film: “Les Misérables,” directed by Ladj Ly
Artistic Bravery: “Letters Of Hope,” directed by Vusi Africa
Best South African Feature Film: “Back of the Moon,” directed by Angus Gibson
DIFF Legacy Award: Peter Rorvik
DIFF Legacy Award: Roz Sarkin and Moosa Moosa
DIFF Legacy Award: Julie Frederikse and Madoda Ncayiyana