Durban film fest’s opening night yawn

2014-07-18 11:31

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A mediocre heist drama opened the 35th Durban International Film Festival, followed by an average crime thriller, writes Charl Blignaut.

“Let’s not talk about censorship,” quipped Themba Wakashe, the new CEO of the Film and Publication Board (FPB), at the end of his speech on the opening night of the film festival last night.

Last year the FPB banned the opening film – Jahmil XT Qubeka’s rural sugar daddy drama Of Good Report – by refusing to classify it because, they said, it contained child porn in inexplicit sex scenes involving a 16-year-old character. The ruling was overturned on appeal and the film went on to win numerous awards around the world.

This year the FPB was one of the countless government agencies to address the increasingly restless opening night crowd at Africa’s largest film festival.

The speeches – which started late – went on for over an hour and a half.

On the eve of Mandela Day, the former president was a central theme in the speeches from festival organisers, the City of Durban and MECs from the province.

Wakashe opened his speech by referring to himself as an activist and proceeded to extol the virtues of freedom of speech and artistic expression. Afterwards audience members said he seemed to be engaging in a face-saving exercise to paint the FPB in a new light.

During the speeches, KwaZulu-Natal made a clear bid to become known as a premium international film destination.

“We have the exquisite scenery, the cultural mix and the technical capabilities to join Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood,” said Mike Mabuyakhulu, MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs.

Speaker after speaker glossed over last year’s controversy, laying claim to the festival which is run by the University of KwaZulu-Natal and is screened in partnership with the Avalon Group.

Avalon – celebrating 75 years of screening films – showed an epic, sappy commercial while linking themselves to Gandhi and outlining their family’s resistance to apartheid.

The state film agency the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) claimed a large portion of the evening’s mentions, celebrating the fact that the opening film this year – crime thriller Hard to Get – had been developed through its ranks.

Emcee Hlubi Mboya battled technical difficulties to try and keep the event flowing.

A video address by Zama Mkosi, the CEO of the NFVF, failed to play the first time round and was reintroduced later in the evening.

Mkosi was delayed in Cape Town, said Mboya. Yet she was allegedly later spotted at the event, according to several audience members.

Hard to Get received a lot less applause than most opening night films at the Durban festival.

It is talented young film maker Zee Ntuli’s debut feature and it tells the story of a female criminal who ropes in a handsome young man from Durban as her accomplice. They hit Johannesburg and the body count rises.

Much was made of the fact that one of the film’s producers, Junaid Ahmed, hails from Durban.

Afterwards critics seemed to agree that the film was too slight to be honoured with the opening slot. But most of the talk was about the relentless opening speeches.

“They should realise this is a film festival, not parliament,” quipped a member of the audience afterwards.

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