South Africa invades Cannes

2013-05-26 06:00

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Despite a record presence at one of the world’s most important film events, the closest South Africa came to having a film in competition at Cannes this year was Zulu, made by a French director and featuring American stars.

The film, shot entirely in South Africa, closes the 66th Cannes Film Festival in the south of France tonight.

Jérôme Salle’s first English-language film is a crime thriller set during apartheid, in which Forest Whitaker and Orlando Bloom play two policemen investigating a crime.

Festival organisers report an increase in overall attendance this year, at 12 000 people. The two biggest boosts in attendance, they note, came from the USA and South Africa, which had a 29% increase.

This was reflected in the record number of local filmmakers that attended – the highest in the 12 years that the country has been participating in Cannes.

150 filmmakers registered with the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), which ran the South African pavilion in the International Village. Movie Scope magazine declared South Africa’s stand the friendliest at Cannes.

Even though it’s been two years since South Africa had an entry in official selection, the country is building on its presence at the market portion, known as the Marché – where films are bought and sold.

Three films were screened at the market: crime drama Black South Easter, 3D animated film Khumba, and the comedy Blitz Patrollie.

Khumba, after being in development with the NFVF for a number of years, sold to a French distribution company, while Blitz Patrollie attracted attention from an international distribution company based in Germany.

Although these films are not on par with the kind of quality and depth necessary to make it into the festival’s official selection (as happened with Life, Above All and Skoonheid), some local filmmakers believe they are still an essential part of the process.

“It’s important that we have a selection of films on offer,” says Blitz Patrollie director Andrew Wessels. The film has been slated by critics and not performed as well as hoped at the box office since opening two weeks ago.

“A film industry is about more than just one particular type of movie,” he says. “The most important thing is to create an industry.”

NFVFs CEO Zama Mkosi agrees, and says the NFVF has been looking to secure foreign buyers of local film, and also build on the various co-production treaties South Africa has, to help make and distribute South African films around the world.

One of the most anticipated films of the year is Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

Producer Anant Singh says it’s taken a while to get off the ground, but while at Cannes, it sold to over a dozen countries. The film is due for release in South Africa in December.

Real-life drama in the form of torrential downpours and high-profile thefts threatened to overshadow the films premiering at this year’s festival.

In one incident, thieves outsmarted 80 security guards in an exclusive French Riviera hotel and made off with a necklace worth $2 million dollars.

Two South Africans were also affected by the crime wave, having their handbags and laptops stolen.

Yet, in the end, thanks to award-worthy performances and compelling stories, attention turned back to the films that premiered here and the stars that were made and some re-ignited during the 12-day festival.

The Coen brothers’ Joel and Ethan earned high praise for their film about a fictitious folk singer in the pre-Bob Dylan era Inside Llewyn Davis.

The film is a break-out role for Oscar Isaac, who up to now has played bit parts, but is almost certain to gain many award nominations in the months to come.

This year’s Cannes also saw career-topping performances from veterans Robert Redford and Michael Douglas.

Redford drew acclaim for his almost wordless portrayal of an old man at sea in All Is Lost, as did Douglas for channelling extravagant pianist Liberace in Beneath the Candelabra.

While the festival is criticised for being male-dominated, 18-year old actress Adele Exarchopolous grabbed some of the spotlight.

The French actress features in La Vie d’Adele (Blue is the Warmest Colour), a film that has been lauded for its handling of lesbian love - and raised eyebrows for its sex scenes.

The festival also had its share of disappointments. Ryan Gosling was a no-show, because he is working on his directorial debut, but his follow-up to Drive, Only God Forgives, was not well received at Cannes.

The jury, led by Steven Spielberg, will announce the winner of the Palme d’Or tonight.

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