Kicking off today, July 16, 2015, the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) return for its 36th year. From July 16 to 26, over 200 films (including 74 feature films, 50 documentaries, 74 short films and 23 surf films) will be screened in 9 venues across the city. In addition, the festival offers an extensive workshop and seminar programs in which industry experts from around the world share their knowledge and skills.
This year’s diverse line-up includes an expanded focus on African cinema with a selection of Africa’s Lost Classicsand a showcase of this year’s FESPACO winners. Other focus areas include a cross-section of contemporary cinema from Brazil and an investigation into the filmmaking landscape of a changing Tunisia, as well DIFF Beat, which celebrates a number of music-based films, and Just One Earth, which presents a selection of environmentally- and sustainability themed titles. In addition to the generous selection of feature films and cutting edge documentaries, DIFF 2015 will screen 10 packages of short films and a selection of thrilling surf films in the Wavescape Surf Film Festival.
South African Focus
While DIFF is a vital showcase for the ever-expanding African film industry, South African film remains the festival’s key focus, with 14 feature and 13 documentary films and 30 short films – most of them receiving their world premieres on Durban screens.
This year’s opening night film see the African premiere of “Ayanda,” the second fiction feature film from South African filmmaker Sara Blecher who opened the festival in 2011 with “Otelo Burning.” “Ayanda” tells the story of single-minded 21-year-old Afro-hipster Ayanda (Fulu Mugovhani) who has a talent for taking neglected pieces of furniture and bringing them back to life. Eight years after her father’s death, his prized auto repair garage is in financial trouble and in danger of being sold, but Ayanda does everything in her power to hold onto his legacy.
Then there’s “Breathe – Umphefumlo,” the Isango Ensemble’s contemporary adaptation of Puccini’s “La Boheme,” the low-budget horror “The Actor” from Aiden Whytock, the politically inclined Bonnie-and-Clyde tale “Impunity” from Jyoti Mistry and the long awaited “Necktie Youth” from Sibs Shongwe-Le Mer. Other South African fiction feature films include “Dis Ek, Anna,” based on the famous Afrikaans novel and directed by Sara Blecher, and the dramatic thriller “Lady Grey” from Alain Chouquart.
South African documentaries include “Blood Lions,” which follows a South African conservationist and an American hunter on their journey through the lion hunting industry, “Coming of Age,” which follows the lives of two teenagers in Lesotho, “Glory Game – The Joost van der Westhuizen Story,” which chronicles the famous rugby player’s battle with Motor Neuron Disease, and “The Shore Break” which documents the attempts by a foreign mining company to mine titanium in the Eastern Cape.
The rich program of films from elsewhere on the continent includes a number of strong directorial talents. From South Africa’s Mpumelelo Mcata comes the challenging documentary-hybrid “Black President.” Philippe Lacôte’s “Run” is a left-field masterpiece from Côte d’Ivoire and Uganda delivers the goods with “The Boda Boda Thieves,” the latest title from vivacious creative co-operative Yes! That’s Us.
African documentaries include the powerful “Beats of the Antonov” which portrays the musical lives of a war-torn community in Sudan, the remarkable /;Sembene!/; which documents the life and career of African master Ousmane Sembene and /;Paths to Freedom,/; which explores the genesis of Namibia’s armed struggle against South Africa.
Africa’s Lost Classicsis a selection providing a rare opportunity for viewers to catch some of the most powerful and idiosyncratic works from the continent’s rich film history. The selection comprises the previously lost masterpiece “Come Back, Africa,” the seminal “Mapantsula” from Oliver Schmitz and “The Blue Eyes of Yonta” by pioneering Guinea-Bissau filmmaker Flora Gomes, as well as “Badou Boy” and “Touki Bouki,” both from African master Djibril Diop Mambety.
In a special tribute to African cinema, DIFF 2015 features six winners from the 2015 edition of the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, or FESPACO. These include amongst others “Fevers,” which tells the story of Benjamin, who moves in with his father and grandparents in a Paris suburb in order to avoid foster-care. Sékou Traoré’s feature debut film “The Eye of the Cyclone,” a psychological drama about a young lawyer who has been appointed a case that no one else wants, and Rehad Desai’s “Miners Shot Down” which returns to DIFF after being celebrated at FESPACO this year.
Following its rich tradition of world cinema, DIFF 2015 presents a diverse showcase of films from around the world.1000 Rupee Note from India tells the story of a poor old widow named Budhi who receives a gift of several 1000 Rupee notes from a politician. “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” bills itself as the first Iranian Vampire Western, while “Dealer,” from France, documents 24 hours in the increasingly hellish life of a small time drug dealer. “Bob And The Trees” tells the story of Bob, a 50-year-old logger in rural Massachusetts with a soft spot for golf and gangster rap. Jean-Jacques Annaud’s visually spectacular film Wolf Totem from France and China, Roger Allers’s animation of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” Gregg Araki’s dramatic thriller “White Bird in a Blizzard,” Kim Farrant’s uneasy drama “Strangerland” set in Australia, and Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s drama romance, “Coming Home” contribute to the richly textured programme this year.
This year’s festival will once more play host to a sterling selection of documentaries from around the world. The American Film “(Dis)Honesty – The Truth About Lies” explores the complex impact dishonesty has on our lives and our societies. “Cartoonists: Foot Soldiers of Democracy,” from France, tells the story of 12 cartoonists and their fight for equality, accountability and transparency. “Democrats,” from Denmark, tells the unique story of the political elite in Zimbabwe fighting the battle over the principles defining the country’s possible future. “Foodies,” from Sweden, follows five of the world’s most renowned foodies on their hunt for the most exclusive nourishment in the world, while “Taxi,” from banned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, takes us on a vibrant and colourful journey through the streets of Tehran. This year will also screen Joshua Oppenheimer highly acclaimed follow up to his Academy Award Nominated documentary “The Act of Killing,” his second film “The Look of Silence” sees a family that survives the genocide in Indonesia confronts the men who killed one of their brothers.
Like South Africa, Brazil is a country defined by glaring inequality and cultural polarity. It also has a rich culture of cinema and a remarkably diverse national canon. Offering a window on to this complex and diverse country, Brazilian Vision presents a wide range of films from different regions in Brazil, providing an incisive overview of its considerable cinematic output. From the north-east state of Pernambuco comes two celebrated feature films: “The History of Eternity” by Camilo Cavalcanti and the moving “Brazilian Dream,” an opera movie depicting the Brazilian economic crisis. From the capital Brasília comes “White Out, Black In,” which portrays a country longing for transformation, while “The Ballad of Poor Jean” deals with the huge social divide between rich and poor in the country.
The explosion of free speech that followed the Tunisian revolution in January 2011 gave birth to new cinematographic voices as young filmmakers armed themselves with cameras to express their points of view on a newly emerging society. The selection which are all in Arabic with English subtitles, includes amongst others Néjib Belkadhi “Bastard” (“Bastardo”), Kaouther Ben Hania’s “Challet Of Tunis” (“Le Challet De Tunis”), Raja Amari’s “Tunisian Spring” (“Printemps Tunisien”), Hamza Ouni’s El Gort and Mohamed Challouf’s “Tahar Cheriaa Under the Shadow of the Baobab” which documents the undisputed father of Pan-Africanism and founder of film Carthage Film Festival, the first film festival in Africa who deployed all his energy to create the first authentic images of post-colonial Africa enabling African cinema to contribute to the modernization of the continent.
Semaine de la Critique in South Africa
DIFF, with the support of the French Institute of South Africa and Urucu Media, presents a traveling programme of La Semaine de la Critique (Critics’ Week) of Cannes Film Festival which will launch in Durban before travelling to Cape Town and Johannesburg. Featured films include, amongst others, “Hope,” Boris Lojkine’s takes on migration from Africa to Europe, “You and the Night,” an erotic-existential-queer comedy from Yann Gonzalez. As well as these screenings, La Semaine de la Critique in South Africa features a master class with visiting filmmaker Boris Lojkine in Durban and filmmaker round tables in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
With DIFF Beat, the festival pays tribute to musical freethinkers and rule-breakers. Filmmaker Adam Sjöberg and rap superstar Nasir ‘Nas’ Jones explore breakdancing and hip-hop in unlikely places in the film “Shake the Dust.” “Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango” intersperses dance and musical performances with interviews with tango-lovers and experts, while “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” blends Cobain’s personal archive with touching interviews with his family. “Imagine Waking up Tomorrow and All Music Has Disappeared” comes from cult musician/art terrorist Bill Drummond, and “When Voices Meet” tells the story of therapist Sharon Katz and singer/educator Nonhlanhla Wanda’s 500-voice multiracial choir.
Just One Earth
Just One Earth offers a selection of films that promote sustainable living and raise awareness about the ecological threats we are facing. “All the Time in the World” tells the story of Canadian filmmaker Suzanne Crocker and her family who decide to take time out from their lives and relocate to the wilds. In “Energised” filmmaker Hubert Canaval explores how profit-driven efforts ensure that both alternative energy solutions and the threats to our existence posed by today’s main sources of energy remain largely unknown to the public. In “Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story,” filmmaker Grant Baldwin and producer/writer Jen Rustemeyer explore why nearly 50% of the food produced in Canada ends up in the trash. Finally, the extraordinary “Virunga” tells of a group of park-rangers in the Democratic Republic of Congo who have devoted their lives to saving the gorillas in Virunga National Park.
Wavescape Surf Film Festival
The 10th Wavescape Surf Festival at DIFF celebrates a decade of films and events around ocean sustainability and beach culture. From Sunday 19 to Saturday 25 July, Wavescape will showcase the latest surf films from around the world. In keeping with tradition, the Wavescape premiere will take place under the stars at the Bay of Plenty lawns on Sunday 19 July, followed by screenings at Ster Kinekor Musgrave until 25 July.
The 8th Talents Durban will bring together 40 selected filmmakers from 10 different countries in Africa, chosen from over 200 submissions, who will take part in a series of masterclasses, workshops and industry networking opportunities during the festival. Supported by the KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission, Goethe Institute SA, German Embassy in South Africa and Gauteng Film Commission, Talents Durban is presented in co-operation with Berlinale Talents. Talents Durban is a platform for African filmmakers to enhance their skills, develop collaborations and interface with the film industry in Africa and beyond.
Now in its 6th year, the Durban FilmMart, a partnership project with the Durban Film Office and the Durban International Film Festival, is a film finance and co-production market presented in three strands – Finance Forum, Master Classes and the Africa in Focus seminars. 19 selected African projects (10 fiction features and 9 documentaries) will have an opportunity to hold one-on-one meetings with potential financiers, co-producers, and distributors in the Finance Forum. Projects will also have an opportunity to pitch to a panel of international commissioning editors and financiers in the African Pitch, a pitching forum of the DFM. See www.durbanfilmmart.com for further details.
**Ephraim Fotso is an upcoming filmmaker and writer studying and living in Buea, Cameroon.