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DIFF DOCUMENTARIES (article first published : 2007-06-20)

With 200 films from 77 different countries, the Durban International Film Festival offers an unparalleled opportunity to enrich audience’s understanding of the state of the contemporary world. This is particularly evident in the issue-based documentary programme. Some 55 film strong, the programme encompasses themes such as slavery; racism; gender struggles; the conflict in Palestine and Israel; South African social and political matters; the urban underground; the different faces and impacts of consumerism; and following on the Oscar-winning success of last year’s festival opener An Inconvenient Truth, the environment.

The legacy of slavery and racism, and modern instances of both, are still acute problems facing global society. The Pan-African Film Festival winning 500 Years Later is an urgent reflection on slavery, colonialism, and racism and the road to freedom, and includes incisive interviews with some of world’s leading scholars. In Youssou n’Dour: Return to Goree renowned singer Youssou n’Dour follows the trail left by black slaves and how the African diaspora gave birth to jazz. This amazing musical journey ultimately brings a collaborative culmination back to Goree, the island that today stands as a potent symbol of the slave trade. 2007 marks 50 years since Ghana became the first African country to gain its independence and three films reflect on life in that iconic country: The Struggle for Livelihood in Mining Communities, Damned by Debt Relief, and, on a more uplifting note, Emmanuel’s Gift, a deeply personal tale of a disabled cyclist overcoming overwhelming odds, (the film includes narration by Oprah Winfrey.

The challenges facing women differ dramatically around the world, and DIFF shines a light on some shocking scenarios, but also on some remarkable achievements. Documentaries dealing insightfully with gender-related issues include: Shame, the powerful story of a rural Pakistani woman’s struggle for justice after being sentenced to gang rape, Women in Struggle about four women whose participation in the struggle for Palestinian independence cost them imprisonment and more, Counting Headz: Sistaz in Hip Hop which reveals the strength of women’s voices in the male-dominated world of South African hip-hop; and the award-winning The Mother’s House about a volatile mother-daughter relationship on the Cape Flats. America the Beautiful documents filmmaker Darryl Roberts’ two year investigation into the modern obsession with physical perfection. The film centres on young “supermodel” Gerren Taylor, who will attend the screenings, present a workshop, and participate in the MTN Durban Fashion Week.

DIFF again spotlights the Middle-East and, in particular, the volatile regions of Iraq, Palestine and Israel. Documentaries include the multi-award winning Arna’s Children; The State of Israel vs. Tali Fahima, about a young Israeli woman who befriends the Palestinian leader of the Al-Aqsa Brigade; and the poignant Women in Struggle. Another notable inclusion is the compelling Operation Filmmaker which revolves around a charismatic young Iraqi filmmaker who is given an opportunity to intern on a Hollywood movie. What unfolds is a cross-cultural endeavour gone startlingly awry.

Closer to home, struggle, be it political, economic, or health related is a core feature in several South African-based films: The History of Cato Manor Series; Pool On Road Six; Revolutionaries Love Life; Senzeni Na (Tsietsi My Hero) ; the controversial Unauthorised Mbeki; We Are Together (Thina Simunye) and What Kind?

The Vuleka production Cato Manor: Contested Past, Pivotal Future is a four-part series on a community that was a crucial site of struggle in Durban; Pool On Road Six focuses on the lives of a group of aspirant filmmakers in the Durban community of Lamontville. Senzeni Na (Tsietsi My Hero) takes a unique look at the life of one of the youth leaders of the 1976 Soweto student uprising, while Revolutionaries Love Life, the new film from promising local director Riaan Hendricks, is set in the modern day, but invokes a search for roots within the struggle. Similarly, What Kind? explores the political and social circumstances surrounding five men from the Durban township of Wentworth who were convicted of murder during the gang violence of the 1980s. We Are Together (Thina Simunye) , audience winner at the Amsterdam and Tribeca Film Festivals is a moving saga about the lives of a group of KwaZulu-Natal AIDS orphans who end up performing in a big concert with Paul Simon and Alicia Keys – the choir performs live at the screenings.

Consumerism and films on environmental degradation form an important tributary of the programme and include: In Debt We Trust: America Before The Bubble Bursts, a timely investigation into predatory credit card companies and the debilitating debt American citizens currently face; the Zen-like Let It Be, a humane celebration of Taiwanese rice farmers; Radiant City, a riveting take on suburban sprawl; The Refugees of the Blue Planet, about how failure to implement economic development safeguards is resulting in natural disasters and displacing millions of environmental refugees; the Durban-shot Sins of the Inner City; and anti-consumerist What Would Jesus Buy? A World Without Water is a graphically urgent investigation into the growing scarcity of water and its rapid commoditification whilst El Ejido, The Law of Profit, which turns a critical eye on the agricultural greenhouses of Spain, is a searing story of the degradation of human rights, the environment and ethical values. An American Opera is an extraordinary documentary about the tens of thousands of house pets abandoned when Hurricane Katrina struck the USA.

More idiosyncratic, but no less relevant, films include: Absolute Jiti, the tragic story of Zimbabwe’s famous music group the Bhundu Boys; The Boy Inside, a story about family dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome; the uplifting Prenessa and the Dolphins, Surya: From Eloquence to Dawn, a remarkable musical and visual experience, across continents, that sees ten contemporary storytellers of different cultures create an imaginary epic story; G.R.A.: Graffiti, Roman Art; the moving Mr. Devious – My Life; and Surfing Soweto, an expose on the daring and dangerous “trainsurfing” phenomenon catching on in the townships of South Africa. Mystic Ball, a must for soccer fans, is a story on how building a skill, in this case the utterly beautiful non-competitive Burmese game of chinlone, can act as a prop for all other aspects of one’s life. The shadow of 9/11 hangs over both The Cats of Mirikitani and Strange Culture – in the case of The Cats of Mirikitani the attacks on the twin towers act as a unifying event bringing two artists together while in Strange Culture we witness the farcical and ultimately terrifying nature of the US Government’s Patriot Act.

For more information telephone the Centre for Creative Arts on 031 260 2506 or 031 260 1650. Visit www.cca.ukzn.ac.za for the full programme.

Organised by the Centre for Creative Arts (UKZN) the Durban International Film Festival is funded by National Film & Video Foundation, National Lottery Distribution Fund, HIVOS, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Stichting Doen, and the City of Durban, with support from a range of valued partners.




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