Siya and Rachel Kolisi's film to open Africa Rising International Film Festival

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Siya Kolisi and his wife Rachel Smith pose at the Mercedes Benz Building prior to the 2020 Laureus World Sports Awards on February 17, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Simon Hofmann/Getty Images for Laureus)
Siya Kolisi and his wife Rachel Smith pose at the Mercedes Benz Building prior to the 2020 Laureus World Sports Awards on February 17, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Simon Hofmann/Getty Images for Laureus)
  • Africa Rising International Film Festival's fourth edition will open with a film produced by Siya and Rachel Kolisi.
  • Titled We Are Dying Here, the film tackles the prevalence of gender-based violence in South Africa. 
  • The film festival takes place from 25 to 28 November online and in person at locations in and around Johannesburg. 


Africa Rising International Film Festival is a youth and women led intervention and event looking to increase entry and access into the continent’s television and film industry through the leadership of the festival's president Lala Tuku and festival director Ayanda Sithebe.

Under the theme Africa in Me #MyStory, the festival’s fourth edition is taking place from 25 to 28 November, both online and in person at venues across Johannesburg. 

Broadening on this year's theme, Tuku said: "The films selected for this year's edition celebrate our collective Africanness. But in so doing, the films are not tone-deaf to issues faced by everyday people on the continent."

In addition to film screenings, this vision will be fulfilled by numerous panel discussions with producers, directors, writers and actors. 

Lala Tuku and Ayanda Sithebe are behind Africa Ris
Lala Tuku and Ayanda Sithebe are behind Africa Rising International Film Festival. (Supplied)

In order for a film to be screened at this year's festival, it went through a meticulous vetting process led by Sihle Hlophe. A director and screenwriter, Hlophe says the festival's criteria looked for films that feature strong African voices, pleasing aesthetics, and social relevance. About the selection, Hlophe says: "We have films from more than 30 African countries (including Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya) as well as films from the African diaspora."

In accord with Tuku and Hlophe, Sithebe, who directs the festival adds: "Our mandate as ARIFF is to raise social issues. That's why we are opening the festival with a film like We Are Dying Here." 

We Are Dying Here is based on a theatre production by Siphokazi Jonas that tackles the prevalence of gender-based violence in South Africa. Directed by Shane Vermooten, the short film is produced by Bianca Schmitz of Optical Films and Jonas in association with the Siya and Rachel Kolisi's Kolisi Foundation.

"One of the most beautiful results of the film is that it causes people to stop and think, and, more so, encourages men and women to have conversations. Like the title, it gets straight to the point," Rachel Kolisi said.

A global ambassador for the United Nations Spotlight Initiative, Siya Kolisi said the film has a lot of learnings for men. "The narrative of the film also teaches you that gender-based violence doesn't start with violence, but the whole thought process." This is the Kolisi Foundation's first ever film.  

While the festival's primary mandate is to look forward by giving a platform to unknown film practitioners, this year its organisers felt it right to make an addition in the form of the Pan-African Cinema Legends Series. Aimed at honouring artists who have contributed a great deal to the continent's film industry, the series' inaugural honouree is British Academy Film Award winning filmmaker and actress Xoliswa Sithole. Raised in Zimbabwe, Sithole's most celebrated acting role was in Cry Freedom. As a director, Sithole won her first BAFTA in 2004 for her documentary, Orphans of Nkandla. Then her documentary Zimbabwe's Forgotten Children earned her another BAFTA in 2011. Before the awards, she was South Africa's ambassador at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999.


Once all talks and screenings have been concluded, this year's festival will culminate with the screening of I Am Samuel. Filmed over a five-year period in Kenya, I Am Samuel is an intimate portrait of a Kenyan man balancing his love life and the relationship that he has with his family. Banned by the Film Classification Board in Kenya, ARIFF wants to make sure that I Am Samuel's impact is not muffled by censorship. 

To this point, Tuku concludes: "A hundred years from now, ARIFF wants to make sure that we'll be able to look back at a glorious archive of impactful African stories told by storytellers with an authentically African point of view."

For more information on ARIFF's exhaustive 2021 programme, click here

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