Silwerskerm Film Festival | Day 1: Programme director Ricky Human on the need to tell authentic local stories

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A still from the film Lakutshon Ilanga.
A still from the film Lakutshon Ilanga.
Photo: Supplied/Sherry Yingying Qian

Independent TV critic Thinus Ferreira is attending the 10th annual Silwerkskerm Festival at the Bay Hotel in Camps Bay. The hybrid event - in-person and virtual - takes place from 23 to 26 March.

Ferreira sits down with festival programme director, Ricky Human.

It was late into November 2021 and during crunch time for everyone to complete their annual workload before their holidays that Ricky Human sat in a virtual meeting with eight key execs to discuss festival objectives of this year's Silwerskerm Film Festival.

It was the moment that the film producer and festival programme director realised that Silwerskerm is a passion of hers to organise.

The 10th Silwerskerm Film Festival – an Afrikaans film festival nicknamed "Cannes in Cape Town" but not limited to just Afrikaans films and content – is bouncing back with a hybrid, real-world and virtual offering stretching over three days at Cape Town's The Bay Hotel.

"With the Silwerskerm Festival, we have successfully built a local interest platform and network for local filmmakers to showcase their work, gain exposure and build their film careers to support our ethos to grow and sustain the local film industry," says Human when Channel24 asks her why it's important for a film festival like this to exist.

She's adamant: "Our focus will always remain local with international interest."

The Silwerskerm festival stimulates the industry with fresh ideas and a pipeline of continuous content and gives producers and film talent – behind and in front of the camera – the opportunity to be recognised in the South African film industry and on international platforms.

"In terms of the full-length premieres, the festival generates publicity and buzz around the films before the films' releases in cinema or on MultiChoice's DStv BoxOffice."

Many prolific and esteemed South African filmmakers have taken their first steps into the industry with the Silwerskerm Festival short film project.

"To mention two examples out of many: Amy Jephta, whose most recent film Barakat was this year's official South African entry for the Oscars, was a previous Silwerskerm short film winner with the 2017 short film Soldaat."

"After winning the Best Short Film category in 2013 with the movie Toevlug, Christiaan Olwagen also created feature films such as Kanarie and Poppie Nongena, which won several international awards. Then, some of the short films have also been adapted into feature films – as is the case with Beurtkrag and Vlugtig, which premieres at the festival this year," says Human.

Covid-19's spoke in the film festival wheel

Film festival organising came to an immediate halt in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The most significant disruption during this pandemic was the 'stop/start' experienced by the productions during filming," says Human.

"We are fortunate to showcase such a great variety of local content. From an operational point of view, we have such a dedicated and committed team that never let their guard down, and each stumbling block is negotiated and resolved amicably.

"Fortunately – and similar to many other film festivals – we were able to host a very successful Silwerskerm Festival Webinar on a virtual platform last year. This year, we can celebrate our 10th-anniversary as an exciting hybrid festival."

How this year's Silwerskerm Film Festival will be different, she says, "The real difference for our festival on the ground is our limited venue capacities due to Covid protocols. Still, the level of excitement overall is higher than ever before with such a long waiting period to celebrate the festival returning."

About what a film festival like Silwerskerm and other South African film festivals need more of, and the type of support required, she says, "All local film festivals, including the Silwerskerm Festival, can only grow when they are fully funded. This happens through several sponsorship partners, government-supported film bodies and private sponsors."

"Looking forward, we would like to add more genres and opportunities for local filmmakers to participate in the festival and grow local audience participation," she adds.

Pushing boundaries

"For me, it's always about the programme and how to inspire our filmmakers to showcase their works to others," says Human.

"In particular, we are proud to have Academy Award-nominated and winning films from 2021 as part of the line-up: Barakat, which has already scooped several awards and Lakutshon Ilanga (When the sun sets), the Student Academy Award winner and premiere at our festival."

"Then there is also the Academy-nominated documentary front-runner for 2022, Writing with Fire, which will be screened at the Silwerskerm festival just three days before the Oscar winners are announced!"

"How wonderful it is also to have our own Silwerskerm festival awards night event the day before the Academy Awards will place in Los Angeles," says Ricky.

Some of this year's Silwerskerm festival short films push boundaries and create talkability. The number of short films in Afrikaans is also much more than in previous years."

"We're also incredibly proud to be able to allow film lovers from across the country to enjoy all the films from anywhere in the country. This is the first time we are doing this, and the interest has been overwhelming, showing that there is an appetite for proudly South African films."

Ongoing quest to find new voices

While kykNET's Silwerskerm festival is primarily about celebrating Afrikaans film, it's not exclusively Afrikaans.

About why it's been important not to have a film festival ensconced around Afrikaans but to make it accessible to a broad, local multi-language community and film industry in South Africa, Human says the festival was a kykNET initiative with a focus on diversifying talent and finding new voices from the Western Cape and grew from there.

"Through all the festival initiatives over the years, it has organically grown to a multi-cultural, local interest festival. Collaboration is a given, and the festival's goal ultimately is to sustain the local industry at large."

And her message for South Africa's film and TV industry about this year's 10th Silwerskerm film festival?

"Don't shy away from telling authentic local stories as there is a growing need for it locally and on international platforms."

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