Thursday, June 29, 2006

Numa Numa in Afrikaans

A YouTube trend of dubbing videos into Afrikaans is developing. Weird. This one - part of the Numa Numa phenomena- will go down well on Sokkie dance floors across South Africa.

Monday, June 26, 2006

SA featurefilms at Grahamstown Art Festival

Ten of the best feature films to come out of South Africa in recent years, along with an SA film retrospective and a diverse international selection, make for a powerful cinema programme at the 2006 National Arts Festival, on in Grahamstown from 29 June to 8 July.
There are two important South African premières: Spier-based Dimpho di Kopane's Son of Man (about a divine child born to a lowly couple in a strife-torn African state), and Richard E Grant's Wah-wah, about the collapse of a colonial family as Swaziland prepares to celebrate independence.

Oscar-winning Tsotsi (2005), based on the Athol Fugard novel, enhances a strong Fugard component in the theatre programme.

Other recent films on show in Grahamstown this year include Zulu Love Letter (2004, directed by Ramadan Suleman with Pamela Nomvete), a personal story unfolding during the TRC hearings; and Norman Maake's Homecoming (2005), which follows the return of three exiled MK cadres.

In Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon (2005), director Kalo Matabane takes viewers into the world of immigrants and refugees in Johannesburg. Also set in the metropolis, among the poorest of the poor, is Darryl Roodt's Faith's Corner (2005). Tim Greene's Boy Called Twist (2004) repositions the Charles Dickens classic in a South Africa setting.

In Critical Assignment (2004, directed by Jason Xenopoulos), a fearless Nigerian journalist - Africa's answer to James Bond?! - takes on corruption like a true-blue action hero. The Bone Snatcher (2004, directed by Jason Wulfsohn) features a group of people stranded in the Namibian desert with a horrifically bloodthirsty monster at large.

SA film retrospective
A strong retrospective programme includes Elaine Proctor's On the Wire (1990), which deals with the troubled psyches of SANDF soldiers who have committed atrocities. Robert Davies' Saturday Night at the Palace (1987) is a powerful filmic version of Paul Slabolepszy's play - at once a thriller and an analysis of white working class fears and prejudices.

David Bensusan's My Country My Hat (1982) uses the problems of a worker without a passbook to unleash a storm of hysterical neurosis. Oliver Stapleton's Shadowplay (1980) is set in the insidious network of apartheid informers that reached out as far as London.

Dirk de Villiers' Glenda (1976) immortalizes Glenda Kemp, the stripper with an irreverent sense of humour. Darryl Roodt's City of Blood (1988) is a dark and complex chiller starring Joe Stewardson as a lonely cop and Susan Coetzer as a Joubert Park sex worker.

In Cedric Sundstrom's The Shadowed Mind (1989), a nightmare of sex and horror plays out in a private clinic. Heinrich Dahms' Au Pair (1991) is an erotic psychological thriller filmed in Durban.

To fill in any gaps, a zesty collage of 11 short films (including three by Aryan Kaganof) grouped in four programmes spark unconventional ideas of what it means to be South African.

International cinema
Almost local, Christopher Schlingensief's The Slit (Germany, Zimbabwe 2003) is a bizarre piece shot in Harare. Jurgen Goslar's Whispering Death (Germany/Rhodesia 1976), based on a violent Daniel Carney novel, features Christopher Lee and Trevor Howard. David Pupkewitz's Kolmanskop (1983) is a ghost story in two time zones.

Moving from Africa to some of the less-frequented tracks of international cinema, a special programme of work with a sense of spirituality includes Ki-duk Kim's Buddhist-inspired Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter … and Spring (Korea 2003) and Gidi Dar's Ushpizin (Israel 2004), made by and with members of the Orthodox Jewish community.

William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente joined forces to direct What the Beep do we Know (USA/South Africa 2004) with the assistance of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment. Ed Solomon's Levity (USA 2003), described as a monumentally religious work, tells of a murderer released from prison seeking enlightment in the five steps prescribed by an eleventh century book.

The New World (USA 2005), directed by Terence Malick, is a deeply spiritual examination of human ambition in 17th century colonial America, its central moment being the meeting of John Smith and Pocahontas. Unfolding like a magical love story, March of the Penguins (France 2005) is a poetic documentary about emperor penguins which many festinos will want to see a second time.

Cinema about cinema, Film as a Subversive Art (UK 2003) documents the ideas of the controversial filmmaker Amos Voges. Inside Deep Throat (USA 2005) revisits the part-time erotic filmmaker who created a new benchmark in explicit cinema back in 1972 - while Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs (UK 2004), which features two people copulating incessantly, suggests that the explicit has now become trivial, tedious and repetitive.

Themroc (France 1972) proposes that hedonism is a form of anarchy appropriate to a hedonistic society, while Futuro (Finland 1998) charts the rise and demise of the plastic flying-saucer house - the South African prototype of which still stands in Port Alfred.

Stylish and dark, Asia Argento's The Heart is Deceitful Above all Things (USA/Italy 2004) tells of a young child yo-yoing between his teenage mother (an itinerant prostitute), his pious grandparents and the welfare authorities. The lush visuals in Rolf Schubel's Gloomy Sunday (Germany 2003) overlay a civilised ménage a trios and a string of suicides as the Nazis march across Europe to Budapest.

Thrillers Rabbit on the Moon (Jorge Ramiraz-Suarez, 2004) and Walk on Water (Eytan Fox, 2004) come from the different worldviews of Mexico and Israel. Two films by Rebecca Miller, Ballad of Jack and Rose (USA 2004) and Angela (USA 1995), both use isolation as the pressure cooker for their themes.

A third Miller film, Personal Velocity (USA 2002), tells of three women's search for freedom, with the underlying wisdom that one can only find happiness with someone going, metaphorically, at the same speed.

Ken Loach's Ae Fond Kiss (UK 2003) uses the tale of a cross-cultural romance as a critique of racism entrenched in British society. A second Loach film, Family Life (UK 1971), is a deeply disturbing indictment of Britain's mental health policies. Faith Akin's Head On (Germany 2003) charts the trials and tribulations of a Turkish immigrant couple in a critique of the social mores in contemporary Germany.

The National Arts Festival is sponsored by the Eastern Cape government, Standard Bank, the SABC, the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund and the National Arts Council.

Business & Arts South Africa has also made a special grant to the festival this year. The major portion goes to the artists on the festival fringe, the rest to festival newspaper Cue, the Youth Audience Development Project and the Art-Walk Meander Map.

Friday, June 23, 2006

John Grierson in South Africa

It is a little know fact that John Grierson, father of British documentary, came to South Africa to advise the then Nationalist government on the establishmnet of a national film board.

In the US Grierson had met pioneering documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty. Grierson respected Flaherty immensely for his contributions to documentary form and his attempts to use the camera to bring alive the lives of everyday people and everyday events. Less commendable in Grierson's view was Flaherty's focus on exotic and faraway cultures. ("In the profounder kind of way," wrote Grierson of Flaherty, "we live and prosper each of us by denouncing the other"). In Grierson's view, the focus of film should be on the everyday drama of ordinary people. As Grierson wrote in his diaries: "Beware the ends of the earth and the exotic: the drama is on your doorstep wherever the slums; are, wherever there is malnutrition, wherever there is exploitation and cruelty." "'You keep your savages in the far place Bob; we are going after the savages of Birmingham,' I think I said to him pretty early on. And we did.")

In 1938, Grierson was invited by the Canadian government to study the country's film production. He proposed the government create a national coordinating body for the production of films. In 1939, Canada created the National Film Commission, which would later become the National Film Board of Canada. Grierson was the first Commissioner of the Board. When Canada entered World War II in 1939, the NFB focused on the production of propaganda films, many of which Grierson directed. After the war, it focused on producing documentaries that reflected the lives of Canadians.

In this articleby Keyan G Tomaselli & Edwin Hees, Grierson's journeys to South Africa is evaluated. Kwailawai* has posted some interesting excepts below.

The affinity for South Africa... by John Grierson is perhaps not surprising. Though his and the apartheid government's political philosophies were very different, Grierson was impressed by the level of development he observed in the country, especially in comparison to other African states. He shared with Afrikaners a sense of historical national loss at the hands of the English. In the Afrikaner Dutch Reformed Church he found familiar Calvinist doctrines and democratic church governance taught by the Church of Scotland.

Highly critical of British expatriates, Grierson referred to them as "pampered Whites". These "lost and conceited children" of the Empire embodied, he concluded, "a sort of decadent evaluation of the imperial idea in which privilege is accepted without any appropriate sense of leadership and guidance". Afrikaners, he saw, had wrested the nettle of political leadership from their English-speaking compatriots. Where Afrikaner means "of Africa", Grierson wrote that English speakers' "only basic bond with Africa is in the escape it seems to offer from British taxation and the cutting down of their class privileges". Most crucially, Grierson realised that liberalism had little or no role to play in South Africa. This realisation notwithstanding, as we shall argue, Grierson's proposal on the establishment of a national film board for South Africa was nevertheless predicated upon liberal ideals - as well as his enthusiasm for film as a means of conveying public information as a requirement for democracy.(3)

The Cilliers Film Committee, which reported to the government in 1943, aimed to stimulate the growth of a purely South African, but more specifically white Afrikaans cinema, by forcing exhibitors to screen Afrikaans-language shorts at every performance.(8) English-speaking critics reacted vociferously. The Union review described Committee Chairman Professor A.C. Cilliers as "a lifelong nationalist" educated in Germany, whose aim was to succour Afrikaner nationalist cultural enterprises.(9)

The Cilliers Committee recommended the establishment of a national film board to produce documentaries aimed: presenting essential industries, ways of living and environment of normal people in such a way that the appeal is no less dramatic than that of the fiction film, in which life is often reconstructed in an exaggerated way.

This could well have been Grierson speaking! The board was thus intended to provide an ideological portrayal of life in terms of the reciprocal relationship between "national culture" and the economy, since white documentary filmmakers were seen as "trustees of the native and other non-European races," who needed "to make the public aware of the world it lives in, to show up the romance and dramatic quality of reality, and thus make the real experience of one the imaginary experience of all".(11)

Objecting to the proposed government dictatorship of the film industry, the Union review stated:

There are two languages in this country for official purposes, but that white bilingualism is, therefore, correctly enforceable in the public service, the schools (government schools, that is), Parliament and the courts ... it is not enforceable in private life - i.e. in the home, the club, the office and the cinema "But," say the mugwumps, "it will enable the English-speaking section to improve their knowledge of Afrikaans." What is cinema - a place of entertainment or a night school?

Professor Cilliers puts it more elegantly - having had a lot of practice in political persuasiveness - thus: "The theatre-going public will have the additional pleasure of seeing the various aspects of our rich national life portrayed on the screen through the medium of one or both of our two national languages." But many of us do not want to see our "rich national life" portrayed in our leisure-time and at our expense. We want to see Rita Hayworth. Anyway, this is a dangerous argument. If accepted, we should be shown District Six and Johannesburg's "Shanty Town" and the ruined reserves and the Indian slums of Durban.(13)

Realising that the Cilliers recommendations created more problems than answers, the government sought to ameliorate the problem by appointing yet another committee. The Smith Committee responded in December 1944.(14) Its proposals differed markedly, suggesting a consolidation of the various government film units into a national film board concerned with the "production, distribution and exhibition of educational, instructional, informative and publicity films which were not normally intended for exhibition in commercial cinemas." Films of a commercial character were to remain the province of the industry. The composition of the board was to be far wider than that suggested by Cilliers.

The recommendations of this second Committee were clearly of a less sectional nature than the Cilliers Report and served the needs of the national economy rather than merely the Afrikaner cultural constituency. The British-supporting United Party government, however, failed to enact Smith's recommendations.

(13) August 1944, p. 34.

(14) Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee appointed to consider the reports of the Committee on State Publicity and the Film Committee and other relevant matters (Union of South Africa: Government Printer,14 December 1944), 3pp.

The Grierson Report

In May 1949, less than a year after the NP had won Parliament from the United Party, the new Cabinet accepted a proposal to invite John Grierson to South Africa. His brief was to conduct an enquiry into the scope and adequacy of the State's film services and to make some recommendations in this respect. Grierson was at that time Controller of Films of the British Central Office of Information and had been previously instrumental in setting up and running for a time the successful National Film Board of Canada (he left when his term of office expired there in 1945). He visited the Union in October 1949. A National Film Advisory Committee was appointed to frame the terms of reference for Grierson's enquiry and to comment on his final report. He was to report to Dr Otto du Plessis, State Information Officer.

Grierson was directed in a fairly general way "to examine the scope and part the Informational and Educational, Scientific and Research Film is playing in South Africa" in informing South Africans and their well disposed allies about the country; he was also to make recommendations about how state departments and "all commercial film interests concerned in the production and distribution of such films" could be drawn into a common scheme to promote the national interest most effectively.(15) In the process, Grierson met at the suggestion of the Advisory Committee senior newspaper editors, both English and Afrikaans, film industry executives, officials of parastatal companies and private companies, independent producers, captains of industry such as Harry Oppenheimer, members of the Natal Indian Congress, and both black and white academics.(16)

Afrikaans-speaking filmmakers and cultural theorists had finetuned their techniques through a technicist reading of Sergei Eisenstein's theories of film, which they mistakenly assumed were similar to those of Grierson.


Finally, Grierson had little impact on South Africa. He himself briefly remarked on the lack of discussion over aesthetics. The absence of university film courses until the early 1970s contributed to this neglect. When Grierson was discussed, usually by the odd cinephile, and usually in the context of European film theory, his visit to South Africa was never mentioned. Only one film we know of draws on Grierson's influence. This was People of the Great Sandface (1985), playing with the earlier film, Coalface. The director of Sandface, John Myburgh, had gleaned something of Grierson and Flaherty from his studies as communication student. He had not seen any films by either director. These anecdotes reveal something about the isolation of South Africa from international influences during the apartheid years.
To read the whole article, click here.

Xenophobia features at DIFF

Xenophobia has emerged as a significant theme at the Durban International Film Festival, writes Niren Tolsi

In August 1999, Fod Tounkora (15) and Yaguine Kota (14) prepared for their aeroplane trip from the Guinean capital, Conakry, to Brussels in Belgium.

For protection against the cold they both wore several layers of clothing, yet kept their plastic sandals on. On arrival they were found dead in the plane�s landing gear. They had frozen as the plane scaled heights twice that of Mount Everest and temperatures had dropped to -55 �C.

A note on one of them read: "Excellencies, gentlemen -- members of those responsible in Europe, it is your solidarity and generosity that we appeal for your help in Africa [sic]. If you see that we have sacrificed ourselves and lost our lives, it is because we suffer too much in Africa and need your help to struggle against poverty and war ... Please excuse us very much for writing this letter."

Refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, illegal immigrants, illegal aliens -- the world has many names for the desperate people searching for new lives on routes that are sometimes deadly, and destinations that are generally callous to their plight.

According to filmmaker Makela Pulula, 800 refugees from around Africa enter Cape Town every month.

Pulula's documentary, A Shadow of Hope, is one of several films at the Durban International Film Festival to examine and interrogate issues of migration, displacement and asylum-seeking.

"South Africans aren't talking about refugees and immigrants. They don�t want to accept the reality, because they don't want to see themselves in the mirror," said the 41-year-old from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

That this country's national discourse will have to pay more attention to foreigners and their assimilation into South Africa is also evident in Khalo Matabane's feature film, Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon. Centred on a young South African, Keniloe (Tony Kgoroge) and his search for Fatima (Fatima Hersi), a Somali woman who he meets one day in the park, it is a vision of Johannesburg inflected with French and Swahili voices far removed from the Mzansi-centric bloated buppie-burbs characteristic of the generally accepted portrayal of the city growing into the post-apartheid dispensation.

Combining documentary and drama, the camera journeys through Johannesburg meeting and interacting with Kenyans, Somalis, Congolese, a Palestinian and a streetwalker from the former Yugoslavia.

While South Africa has only begun to grapple with the issue of migration, it is an international one.

Guinean director Gahit Fofana was moved to make the melancholically beautiful Un Matin Bonne Heure (Early in the Morning) after reading the story of Tounkora and Kota's deadly journey.

Fofana says there is no political instability (just political inefficiency) or poverty in Guinea, that "whatever you want to eat you can grow in the rich earth" and that the northward gaze is a new development: "For the past 10 years, it has been changing. The youth are attracted to these new things on television and radio and all these images from the world are compelling for them," he says.

The lure of the promised land, for whatever reason, will always compel people to move. Yet, in a globalised village that is, paradoxically, driven by increasingly controlled national borders, those stories are haunting.

Escape doesn't always provide respite. In Matabane's Conversations, his protagonist asks a European woman, "Is the war over [in the former Yugoslavia]?" She replies: "It is, but I don't know if the war is over in my head."

Monday, June 19, 2006

Afrikaans South Park

Another Afrikaans episode of South Park has made it onto YouTube.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Sithengi insists doc co-production forum will go ahead in 2006

South African documentary makers will have noticed that Sithengi has, unlike previous years, made no mention of the Documentary Co-production Forum (DCF) on their website this year.

Kwailawai* has contacted them and according to Sithengi, it will happen and information and details will be made available soon on their site soon.

This is excellent news for local documentary making as the DCF brings documentary commissioning editors from the some of the worlds largest TV networks, armed with their considerable checkbooks (by South African standards), ready to fund South African docs.

Kwailawai* has attended both the previous two years' pitching sessions and was concerned that last years poor showing may have dissuaded the international broadcasters from attending.

All the projects pitched had to already have had some promise of funding by the SABC. Unfortunately the SABC pitching requirements were so politically correct that very few of the projects the SABC wanted to fund, was found to be of any interest by the international panel.

During the pitching question and answer session, when asked whether it helps that a documentary is produced by a black producer an emphatic "no" come from the panel, and BBC Storyville Commissioner Nick Fraser put it more bluntly. "I don't care who you are", he said.

In the light of the recent debacle where the SABC declined to air documentaries deemed to be politically sensitive, one has to hope that Sithengi excepts documentaries that have not been necessarily been pre-approved and part funded by the SABC. For this to happen Sithengi will have to put an independent panel in place.

Mpofu lashes out at Mbeki doccie critics

SABC group CEO Dali Mpofu yesterday launched a scathing attack on the producers of the “unauthorised” documentary of President Thabo Mbeki and what he termed “right-wing organisations” for implying that the SABC was biased towards government.

The broadcaster’s decision not to screen the 24-minute documentary last month has been criticised by industry professionals, the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) and the South African National Editors Forum, saying the decision was made due to political pressure on the public broadcaster.

Read more here.

SABC theathens South African documentary making

From the South African Mail & Guardian on the canning of the Mbeki documentary

I TOLD a friend to watch Unauthorised: Mbeki, the documentary that was scheduled for Wednesday June 6.

Instead we were force-fed a repeat diet of Patricia de Lille. Since then I have been trying to get to the bottom of why the doccie was canned.

After a private viewing, columnist Anton Harber commented that it was fairly innocuous and that he could not understand why this form of censorship was continuing. This form of mind control yet again “reinforces (his) view that the SABC’s problem is not that they are captives of the government or the ruling party, but that they’re crippled by a mixture of fear and confusion, borne of a fatal mixture of incompetence and uncertainty. There are ongoing battles between those who want to do more daring and provocative work, and screen a range of views on matters as complicated as the presidency; and there are those who want to move the SABC closer to the ANC (African National Congress). In the middle are a lot of confused and uncertain individuals being pulled in both directions.”

Read more here.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Durban International film festival to kick off this week

The 27th Durban International Film Festival will present over 300 screenings celebrating the best in South African, African and international cinema. Most of the screenings are either African or South African premieres. The festival also offers filmmaker workshops; industry seminars; discussion forums; outreach activities that include screenings in township areas where cinemas are non-existent, and much more. For more information Contact: Tel: +27 31 2602506 / 2601145 Fax: +27 31 2603074 Email:

Read more here.

Zim Movie to Feature in SA

The award-winning Zimbabwean movie, Tanyaradzwa, together with over 300 others, will feature at the 27th Durban International Film Festival that opens in South Africa on Wednesday this week.

Most of the screenings are either African or South African premieres. The festival also offers film maker workshops; industry seminars; discussion forums; outreach activities that include screenings in township areas where cinemas are non-existent.

A selection of the best in current world cinema, most of which are premiere showings on the continent, will be on offer during the festival that ends on June 25 after showing at 25 different venues across Durban.

With films from over 50 countries, the festival opens a window onto film-making around the world and through the magic medium of cinema enriches our experience and understanding of the world. Including numerous award-winners, the line-up of cutting edge feature films is supplemented by a prime selection of topical documentaries and short films.

Read more here.

Tsotsi director reveals anti-pirate moves


Moonyeen Lee is one of South Africa's leading film gurus. Today she boasts of overseeing over 15 movie productions as casting director. Perhaps the best of all her efforts has been the 2005 hit movie, Tsotsi, which won an Academy Award for best foreign film this year. The movie is about a gangster and shows compassion.

The popularity of the works saw one of the editors of the film releasing it illegally on DVD. He was eventually caught and brought to book, but the bootleg DVDs did not stop flowing into the lucrative market where the news of the success of Tsotsi at the Academy Awards created waves. The result was mass production of Tsotsi, by other DVD thieves who flooded the whole of southern African market, including Botswana. The pirated copies hit the market even before the real DVD was officially released. Lee is filled with pain. She feels especially for the actors, who have now been denied their rewards because the money for the hit movie is now going into wrong hands. "The whole cast is not benefiting at all from the rampant piracy. It is really sad."

Read more here.

Stock Options offers South African 35mm footage

Stock Options, a leading South African stock footage company, is offering footage that captures the rich diversity of South Africa.

Captured on 35mm film, the collection offers a broad range of footage that includes, aerials of Cape Town and other scenic landmarks and locations, wildlife, superb extreme sports, township and urban life and lifestyles and more. The collection also includes a strong ethnic section, capturing many charming traditions that are not commonly seen.

The footage will be available on the company's soon-to-be-launched searchable website, but is available immediately as response to a telephonic or emailed enquiry, according to manager Erna de Villiers. "We can usually email a selection of clips to clients within a matter of hours. Broadcast masters are on hand for rapid delivery to clients."

Read more here.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Tsotsi writer Fugard gave SA township actors a voice

The Eastern province Herald on the amazing tale of how Athol Fugard got involved in the theatre of the townships.

By Ivor Markman

WITH international accolades raining down on the shoulders of ex-Port Elizabeth playwright, Athol Fugard after the film adaptation of his book Tsotsi won an Oscar earlier this year, the famous author is back in South Africa at his rural retreat in the village of Nieu Bethesda, 50km north of Graaff-Reinet.

The Herald travelled to his home for an exclusive interview about the creation of the New Brighton-based, black theatrical group, the Serpent Players, during the height of the apartheid regime.

While the Gavin Hood-directed film has put Fugard back in the public spotlight, most South Africans are not aware of his seminal contribution to SA theatre through the players – the first serious black theatre troupe in the country.

Shortly after returning home to PE from a tour of his nationally acclaimed play, The Blood Knot in 1963, Fugard one night had an unexpected visit at his flat in Bird Street from a group of New Brighton residents.

Read more here.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

U-Carmen eKhayelitsha

Can there be anything fresh to add to this screen carnival of Carmens? U-Carmen eKhayelitsha (12A), directed by Mark Dornford-May, transplants Carmen to a present-day South African township, Khayelitsha, and fuses the familiar story and music with the language, rhythms and everyday details of a shantytown setting outside Cape Town.

It becomes an energetically shot, realistic semidocumentary on urban South Africa invigorated by an unlikely melodramatic European opera soundtrack. It ultimately works, and transcends being a musical novelty or graceless curdle of traditions, because it has a unique Carmen – lusty, volatile Pauline Malefane tears through the story, giving us an exhilarating Carmen on a knife-edge between the determined and the demented.