Johannesburg - With an overwhelming star wattage to light up the city sky, the opening night of the Joburg Film Festival got off to a glittering start on Tuesday.
Film stars, international legends, soapie queens and kings, television starlets and heavyweight producers rubbed shoulders with cinema lovers, captains of the industry and media at Sandton's Nelson Mandela Square, overlooked by the towering statue of Nelson Mandela.
Champagne popped and canapés floated about as excitement in the see-through marquee pitched in the middle of the square shot through the roof, amongst the crowd of stars decked out in sequins, feathers and African prints. The arrival of the Joburg Film Festival Jury, including Guyanese American actress of ER and Avatar fame CCH Pounder; acclaimed author Zakes Mda and revered actresses Florence Masebe, caused a stampede on the purple carpet.
But it wasn't until actress and humanitarian Nomzamo Mbatha, resplendent in a sparkling MaXhosa dress, delivered a powerfully fired up opening monologue accompanied by a fleet of drummers, as she pranced on the purple carpet like a praise poet that the Joburg Film Festival took its rightful place among some of the most prestigious film festivals in the world – with a distinctive Joburg flavour.
Mbatha's presence at the festival comes at a time when she is riding a crest of a wave on the international stage after securing a spot in the Coming to America film sequel that she shot in LA with Eddie Murphy and Garcelle Beauvais.
Speaking after her captivating performance that celebrated the magic of Joburg, Mbatha said her relationship with Joburg Film Festival went back four years. "I was part of the festival when we went to the Toronto Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival to promote the event. Joburg is literally the heartbeat of South Africa, not taking away from my hometown (Durban) which has its own character and texture - but Joburg is where everybody comes to pursue their dreams. This is where dreams are born, pursued you push through any ceiling you think Joburg has, and sadly this is also where some dreams die. Joburg means all of those big and incredible and small things where you build a home and a family out of this city. So there is no way that a Joburg Film Festival could not exist because this is where we come to pursue the big lights, it's literally the Hollywood of South Africa and possibly Africa as a whole."
Mbatha also paid tribute to the role the Multichoice Group's Mzansi Magic channel played in her career, as a star of the channel's hit series Isibaya. In fact, her own short film 21 Grams will be screened for a select crowd on Thursday afternoon.
"Multichoice was the breaking ground for me. They elevated my career and put me on a show and trusted me as a new young girl who was inexperienced - and they bet on her. Even now as the star continues to rise, Multichoice will always say 'that is our daughter, we are lending her to you'." She has her eyes fixed on a successful international career.
As she explained: "I was filming Coming to America, and that's all I can say at the moment. Relocating to the States was a huge step for me, and being able to make a life for myself and chase the Los Angeles lights, but most importantly it's the representation of myself and my dream for myself that I always had."
Others that came out to play included newly minted Idols SA winner Luyolo Yiba and the runner-up Sneziey Msomi, Carte Blanche's Claire Mawisa, model Refilwe Modiselle and her actress sister Candice, media personality Penny Lebyane, comedian Tats Nkonzo, actors Vuyolwethu Ngcukana, Nyalleng Thibedi, Kay Sibiya and Noluthando Nqayi. Talented vocalist Msaki performed alongside Black Motion, much to the delight of the crowd.
The opening film, 8, starring veteran local actor Tshamano Sebe, who was in attendance, impressed the invited guests. Directed by Harold Hölscher, it explores the supernatural world via a story of a family encounter with a cursed man.
SEE THE TRAILER FOR THE FILM HERE:
Some 60 films from South Africa, Brazil, US, Morocco, Mozambique and Nigeria among others will be shown at Joburg Film Festival over six days in Sandton, Rosebank, Alexandra and Maboneng – details here.
The Joburg Film Festival runs until Sunday 24 November.