SA film, universal story

2011-07-25 00:00

OTELO Burning may be set in the turbulent late eighties of South Africa, but its themes of jealousy, manipulation, romance and tragedy make it a universal story.

Developed from a workshop process in Lamontville, the film is based on the true story of a swimming pool in the area, and the dedicated people who ran it, which overcame the ravages of apartheid and gangsterism to produce nearly all of the Zulu lifeguards serving on the Durban beach-front.

At the film’s heart are three young men, best friends Otelo (Jafta Mamabolo), New Year (Thomas Gumede) and the older, and slightly mysterious Mandla (Sihle Xaba), who introduces Otelo and New Year to the delights of surfing.

For Otelo the sport is a revelation. Not only does it provide the talented sportsman with a possible way out of township life, but it represents true freedom.

As Otelo’s skill as a surfer grows, however, Mandla begins to feel jealous, which is compounded when New Year’s sister, Dezi (Ndwazi Shange), falls in love with Otelo.

As tensions increase between the Inkatha and ANC factions in the township, Mandla’s jealousy and his actions — which have the feel of Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello — ultimately have tragic consequences for him, for Otelo and, most tragic of all, for Otelo’s younger brother, Ntwe.

Tshepang Mohlomi, who starred in the beautiful Izulu Lami (My Secret Sky), which opened the Durban International Film Festival (Diff) two years ago, plays the ever-curious Ntwe, and what happens to this spirited child is devesating to watch.

The talented cast deliver fine performances across the board, but I was especially taken with Gumede, who narrates the story and documents the journey of the Lamontville youngsters in photographs.

He is an actor with fine comic timing and provided many of the film’s lighter moments. A young man to watch.

Also deserving of praise is cinematographer Lance Gewer (Tsotsi, Spud), who proves again what a special talent he is, delivering some truly stunning shots of the boys surfing, scenes which provide a bright contrast to the darker tones of those shot in the township.

Director Sara Blecher has delivered a fine film, a feat made more remarkable by the fact that she only finished it a day before its world premiere at Diff last Thursday.

Speaking at the screening, she said the film has been seven years in the making and that she is delighted that Otelo Burning, which was shot locally, could make its debut at the festival.

“Diff affects the lives of so many filmmakers on the continent.

“It allows us to see films that we would never see otherwise, and it opens discussions that we would never have,” she added.

Otelo Burning is a wonderful South African film and deserving of good audiences during the festival and when it opens nationally. ****


• Otelo Burning is being screened at 10 am today at Suncoast. The film is in Zulu with English subtitles.

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