Impressions from the 32nd Durban International Film Festival - A Golden Opportunity to Talk Film

By Hans-Christian Mahnke. After having attended my last South African film festival, the Cape Wineland Film Festival 2011, as a judge, being assigned to watch more than forty films, the 32nd Durban International Film Festival offered me a different and much longed for opportunity: To watch and enjoy films I choose to watch, without the immediate pressure to comment on them. And DIFF and the accompanying Durban Film Mart offered me another pleasure and treat: To meet and drink coffee with the people I wanted and needed to meet face to face.

Over the years I have seen many African films and I have made contact with quite a lot of African filmmakers. But meeting the masters of their art in person is always something different. And, a film festival and especially the 2nd ever organized Durban Film Mart, which took place parallel to DIFF, provided me with the opportunity to talk film, in a pool of likeminded people, something which is rarely the case when back at home in Windhoek. And it’s not only about the screenings, the official meetings, the networking gatherings, the seen-and-be-seen events. No it’s more about the in-betweens, where you have these rare moments and feel the soul and spirit of the film industry. Something an email communication can’t really compensate for.

And of course, there are the films. What a treat. Some of the international crème de la crème and their films were scheduled. Some World premieres. Some African premieres. And as usual, one can be lucky or get really disappointed because the synopsis in the booklet looked promising but in the end the film then didn’t really grip you.

The DIFF 2011 had excellent films in its programme, amongst them eleven South African feature films. Focusing on African films and searching for material for our Windhoek based film series “African Perspectives”, I obviously paid most attention, not exclusively though, to African films. And here, two films were sticking out, both being able to play in the Champions League of Global Cinema.
First, the Nigerian, New York based Filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu presented his film Restless City, which was produced for only 80.000 USD and shot in New York City in 18 days in the beginning of 2011. The film took my heart by storm.

Definitely my personal discovery of the festival. I totally agree with the organisers of DIFF: Restless City announces Dosunmu as a major talent in world cinema. Every shot a beautiful photography, which doesn’t surprise if one knows that Dosunmu is a trained photographer. An incredible sensitive, passionate and engaging poetic film based on an everyday life story, catching the attention of the viewer from start to finish.

Restless City tells the story of the young Senegalese immigrant Djibril in New York and how he tries to make ends meet. All his hopes rely on his belief of him being a great musician. When he falls in love with Trini, a prostitute, working for a local small-scale gangster and hustler, Djibril’s previously aimless existence in the Big Apple is suddenly given meaning anew. There is actually not too much happening in the film, but that doesn’t bother, it is miraculously entertaining. It somehow portrays a real life time story. The film director brilliantly allows us to be absorbed and taken along with the emotions of his characters. And as one critic said: “While Dosunmu’s film work feels vitally new, his emphatic decision to dwell in and on the moment – cinema’s purest joy – is something that mainstream American film used to be very good at indeed before it was killed by the Multiplex.” Nothing to add from my side.

The second film, which I would also label as a diamond is the Afrikaans language film Skoonheid by Oliver Hermanus, which clearly will make some waves in Namibia too. The film tells the story of the main character Francois van Heerden, a repressed married 45-year old Afrikaner from Bloemfontein, who secretly outplays his homosexual desires in a conservative environment. He gets deeply attracted to the handsome adult son of old family friends, who doesn’t return his advances, the tragedy of his suppressed love unfolds and turns violent. The crime he commits keeps covered up, since the victim – one has to assume – prefers to keep silent out of fear of public humiliation.  
Skoonheid won the Queer Palm at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Now at Durban, not only did Hermanus film win the award for Best South African Feature Film, the film also received the jury prize Special Mention Feature Film “for the courage to explore this taboo subject matter in Africa today through this powerful film”. Two prices he clearly deserves. And I am sure, the box office will prove a success too.

After his debut feature Shirley Adams, which won the 2009 DIFF award for “Best South African Feature Film”, Hermanus establishes himself more and more as an inspired and inspiring storyteller, not just a filmmaker, but a brilliant narrator too. I hope for many more films to come from this remarkable and complex director.

Speaking about ”producing more”. The news stoke down like lighting. Gaston Kabore, acclaimed filmmaker, former decade long director of national cinematography of Burkina Faso as well as secretary general of the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI) from 1985 to 1997, revealed at a Master Class during the Talent Campus Durban, that he will shot the sequel to his two award winning films Wend Kuuni (1992) and the follow-up film Buud Yam (1997).

In 1997, then 15 years after completing Wend Kuuni, Kabore shot Buud Yam as a sequel and the African film world had been waiting in excitement, when and if Kabore would ever make a third film, making it a trilogy of three films. During a master class of the Talent Campus Durban at DIFF Kabore announced he is currently writing the script for the third part and he will start shooting in 2012. An exciting news for African cineasts and something to look out for in 2012.
In the end, attending a film festival of the size of DIFF, is not only about networking and watching films. It’s about fun. And it’s business. It’s work. It’s tiring. Be it as it is, I took home an impression of a well organized and extra-ordinary film festival. So God will, I will be back next year for sure.

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