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.


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