Flicking through the festival programme of the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) feels like a journey through African film, boasting films from South Africa, Kenya, Tunisia, Gabon, Zambia, Morocco, Ghana, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Algeria – to name a few. It can safely be said that no other film festival in the world so comprehensively showcases the variety of current African film over a short ten-day period. Not only does the festival bring together talent from the continent, but also puts African cinema into an international context, presenting some of the best of international film along the way. The biggest and longest-running annual film festival in Africa, the 2017 Durban International Film Festival promises to be something special and different in the international film festival scene.
It can safely be said that no other film festival in the world so comprehensively showcases the variety of current African film.
This year, the DIFF has taken a fresh approach, with the appointment of new Festival Director, Chipo Zhou, who has constructed an inspiring programme that not only fosters local talent, as ever, but has a particular focus on women-led films. As Ms Zhou describes, “The festival this year is giving women a platform to take ownership of our stories, the origins of our stories and how they are told. We have the opportunity to reconstruct our narrative as such that we re-socialize society in order that it reconceives perceptions about women, especially in the wake of the brutality against women we have seen in South Africa.” Indeed, the opening night film SERPENT is the directorial debut of South African director Amanda Evans. This is an intense and taught tale of a couple who, while camping, wake up with a deadly snake in their tent – forcing them to face each other and the secrets they keep. As well as that the festival is presenting LIYANA – produced by Thandi Newton, which won the Documentary Award at this year’s Los Angele Film Festival – about the bravery of a young Swazi girl who journeys into the wilderness to save her brothers.
There are a number of intriguing international focuses within the festival, showing a view of film on an international scale as well as in Africa – with an array of innovative German, Canadian and Russian strands in the spotlight. As well as that, the Kwa-Zulu Natal Film Commission has sponsored a delegation of Kenyan filmmakers to attend the film festival, along with a strand of exciting Kenyan films that showcases both new and existing talent in the country, with films such as KATI KATI and SOUL BOY. This drive is partially in the hope that more co-productions might be developed between the two countries. With a general theme of ‘Transit Tales’, the film festival is picking up the current global issue of migration, transition and refuge, with various films focused on that subject.
“The festival this year is giving women a platform to take ownership of our stories…”
One of the most impressive intentions of the festival is to continue to foster an African identity through film. The wealth of talent on the continent is gradually emerging with a strong sense of where it comes from: storytelling that reflects diverse societies, vibrant communities and both broad and intimate perspectives of African life. This is not only represented in the outstanding selection of films during the festival, but also by the initiatives taking place. In particular, the Durban Film Mart – a joint venture between the festival and the Durban Film Office – which aims to provide network opportunities for filmmakers from across the continent, who will meet with financiers, distributors, sales agents and potential co-producers; participating in meetings, project presentations and a series of masterclasses and workshops on the latest industry trends. As if this wasn’t innovative enough in fostering African filmmaking talent, the festival will also host Talents Durban in cooperation with Berlinale Talents, in which 30 selected filmmakers and film critics from 19 African countries will participate in a five-day programme of workshops, seminars and masterclasses.
The 38th Durban International Film Festival is organized by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, with support from eThekwini Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission, the National Film and Video Foundation, German Embassy, Goethe Institut, and a range of other partners.
Mike Boyd (Editor-At-Large) is excited to be covering the Durban International Film Festival from 13 – 16 July, reviewing a number of the films on show.