Archive for the ‘DIFF’ Category

Brooklyn Jazz Hustler

Noah Wise

Director: Ben Zuckert

Cast: Mat Vairo, Raffaella Meloni, Kevin Kilner, Craig Newman, Kate Middleton, Meg Gibson

Spoiler Alerts Valid for Date of Commercial release

Writer, director and composer Ben Zuckert’s second feature film Noah Wise also premiered at the 40th Durban International Film Festival and basically tells the quirky story of a Brooklyn Jazz Hustler played by Matt Vairo.

Audiences should not expect too much to occur in this film, suffice to say it is more a humorous commentary on one young man’s journey to maturity as he navigates the perils of being broke, independent and trying to hit the big time as a saxophonist.

Noah Wise encounters several setbacks including his quartet taking a break due to a lack of performance gigs, and then Noah find a stable job teaching primary school children how to play musical instruments.

Along the way he meets the brash singer-songer writer Rachel played by Rafaella Meloni who has recently moved to New York from Minneapolis.

Quirky independent American cinema doesn’t get better than Noah Wise as he battles through the journeys of unrequited love, dealing with his parents who keep telling him that he desperately needs to take a real interest in current affairs and revealing to Rachel that he is just another broke young jazz hustler who cannot cook and eats canned Sardines.

Noah Wise is a slow moving film, sprinkled with intelligent dialogue about a young couple’s challenge to achieve their individual dreams even at the detriment of their own shifting relationship.

Perhaps, the narrative structure of Noah Wise could have done with less nuance and more action, but overall, it is a gentle compelling tale about a young couple’s love for music in the Big Apple.

Director Ben Zuckert’s Noah Wise received its international premiere at the 52nd Hof International Film Festival in Germany in 2018 before being screened at the 40th Durban International Film Festival in July 2019.

Noah Wise is recommended for audiences that enjoy American independent cinema where action is overtaken by subtle dialogue and episodic events. Noah Wise gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 as the storyline needed to be injected with some dramatic conflict to propel the narrative further.

The Skin We Live In

The White Line

No Poster Available at time of Publication

Director: Desiree Kahikopo

Cast: Jan-Barend Scheepers, Girley Charlene Jazarama, Sunet van Wyk, Mervin Uahupirapi

Spoiler Alert Valid until Date of Commercial Release

Director Desiree Kahikopo’s stunning Namibian film The White Line had its South African film premiere at the 40th Durban International Film Festival and I was lucky enough to catch a screening of it at the Suncoast Entertainment Complex.

Admittedly, I have not seen many films from the Namibian Film Commission or films that deal so brilliantly with Namibia’s tortured past prior to independence in 1990 when it was called South West Africa which fell under the special administrative region of the then South African Apartheid government.

The White Line superbly deals with the complexities of an inter-racial relationship when it was a crime for black and white persons to have a sexual relationship under the immorality act. Set in 1963, The White Line tells the story of a young South West African white policeman Pieter de Wit played by Jan-Barend Scheepers who falls in love with his black domestic worker Sylvia Kamutjeno wonderfully played by Girley Charlene Jazarama.

More significantly, The White Line deals with the ugly overt racism that existed in South West Africa especially evident in the Afrikaner rural community displayed by the policeman’s sister and husband who are inevitably shocked when he confesses his affair to his brother-in-law.

The consequences are far worse for the domestic worker who is imprisoned for breaking the immorality act. In a particular poignant scene, the two main characters have an argument in the desolate Namibian countryside at dusk whereby Sylvia tells Pieter that he has no idea how difficult it is to live in the skin she has.

The White Line is framed by the 1990 opening scenes of Namibia’s formal independence as a newly formed African country and how that independence comes with the gradual reconciliation of past secrets and a passionate plea for acceptance and diversity for Namibia’s post-independence born free generation.

The White Line is a stunning film, simply told with most of the dialogue in Afrikaans with English subtitles and is a superb example of the emerging talent of Namibian cinema.

At the Q and A after the screening, I asked the director if The White Line is going to receive a commercial release in South Africa and she assured me it will. When The White Line completes the festival circuit and does receive a commercial release, audiences should make an effort to watch it.

The White Line is a fascinating portrait of interracial love at a time when immorality was infused with political supremacy and the desires of the individual was crushed by the unjust laws of the pre-independence Apartheid South African state which governed the barren South West African territory.

Namibian director Desiree Kahikopo’s engrossing film The White Line gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is recommended viewing. Audiences should watch this film, but be aware that it deals with the issue of racism explicitly.

The Vipers of Sophiatown

Back of the Moon

DIFF winner – Best South African Feature Film 2019

Director: Angus Gibson

Cast: Richard Lukunku, Moneoa Monash,Lemogang Tsipa, Israel Matseke-Zulu, Sicelo Dlamini, Siyabonga Thwala

One of the best films I saw at the 40th Durban International Film Festival http://ccadiff.ukzn.ac.za/ was director Angus Gibson’s period gangster film Back of the Moon featuring an all-star South African cast including Lemogang Tsipa (The Eye in the Sky, Beyond the River) as the ruthless gangster Ghost.

Back of the Moon deservedly won Best South African Feature Film at the Durban International Film Festival #DIFF 2019.

Back of the Moon is set in Sophiatown in 1958 as the South African Apartheid government are about to enforce removals of the Sophiatown residents out of the district to Meadowlands which is on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

Director Angus Gibson captures all the brutal essence of a gangster film, with the notorious gang The Vipers causing havoc at the Back of the Moon, while Sophiatown’s local celebrity Eve Msomi glitters as the main act at the more upmarket Casablanca nightclub.

Eve and Badman one Fateful Night

The Vipers gang go behind their leader Badman’s back and unbeknownst to him kidnap Eve as she dazzles the crowd at the Casablanca nightclub on a fateful night. Badman was asleep and woke up to discover his gang taunting Eve. Badman orders the Viper gang to leave but orders Eve to stay. Eve is on the verge of leaving Sophiatown for London to start a new life with her kind manager but as they plan to escape the brutality of Apartheid South Africa in the 1950’s which threatens to strip Sophiatown of its precarious glamour and all that it represents, they inadvertently get caught up in a fateful night they will never forget with Badman and his vicious Viper gang members.

In a wonderful scene between Badman and Eve, he makes her a couple of tea and Eve replies by saying “I didn’t know gangsters make tea.”

Badman has to contest with Eve’s boxer boyfriend while Ghost makes a dangerous bid to control the Vipers. Ghost is brilliantly played by Lemogang Tsipa whose lethal addiction to the gangster life takes its toll on all those around him.

The Viper Gang

Back of the Moon is gorgeously filmed, extremely well-acted and offers a unique and often forgotten snapshot of the half demolished ghetto Sophiatown before it was obliterated from its location while the ambiance and memories of Sophiatown linger on in the collective national psyche filled with elegy and brutality.

Sophiatown in 1958 the scene of Back of the Moon

21st century audiences must view Back of the Moon as a period gangster film, with the femme fatale, the evil gangster and all those caught in between, a sort of South African retro version of director Barry Levinson’s Oscar winning 1991 American gangster film Bugsy starring Warren Beatty, Ben Kingsley and Annette Bening.

Back of the Moon gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is one of the best South African period films about Sophiatown and will surely add to South Africa’s growing and impressive film canon.

Highly recommended viewing but not for sensitive viewers due to some disturbingly violent scenes.

39th DIFF Winners

Winners of the 39th Durban International Film Festival #DIFF2018

announced at Suncoast Casino Supernova Cinema on Saturday 28th July 2018 –

https://durbanfilmfest.co.za/

Best Feature Film: The Reports on Sarah and Saleem

Best Director: Constantin Popescu – Pororoca

Best Actor: Bogdan Dumitrache – Pororoca

Best Actress: Maisa Abd Elhadi – The Reports on Sarah and Saleem

Best Screenplay – Jennifer Fox – The Tale

Best South African Feature Film – High Fantasy directed by Jenna Bass

 

Boxing and Drag Shows

Alaska is a Drag

No Film Poster available at time of publication

Director: Shaz Bennett

Cast: Martin L. Washington Jr, Maya Washington, Matt Dallas, Christopher O’Shea, Jason Scott Lee, Margaret Cho, Nia Peeples, John Fleck, Kevin Daniels

As seen at DIFF 2018 – https://durbanfilmfest.co.za/

Spoiler Alert Valid for Date of Commercial Release if applicable

Director Shaz Bennett takes cinematic Indie Hip to a new level in the cleverly poignant coming of age drama Alaska is a Drag featuring a standout performance by Martin L. Washington Jr as Leo an aspiring drag queen who has ambitions of leaving isolated Alaska where he is packing and gutting fish for a living and looking after his sister Tristen played by Maya Washington.

When the heavy drinking boxer Declan arrives in town and also starts working at the fish cannery, there is immediate attraction but as director Shaz Bennett explores so deftly that often affection between men can quickly evolve into violence.

Leo ditches his drag ambitions which are clearly influenced by such pop diva’s as Grace Jones and Eartha Kitt and takes up the extremely masculine sport of boxing where he also fights his repressive former friend Kyle played by Christopher O’Shea.

Heavily influenced by Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, Alaska is a Drag was a treat to watch at the 39th Durban International Film Festival  https://durbanfilmfest.co.za/ and would surely be a hit at many Queer film festivals both in South Africa and abroad.

Audiences should watch out for Fashion Police’s Margaret Cho as the surly bar tender who decides to host a drag competition with hilarious results.

For all its quirky characters and a beautifully poignant ending, Alaska is a Drag is a complex yet amusing film about beautiful people with dazzling dreams stuck in a small town community. Highly recommended viewing.

Alaska is a Drag gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is original, hilarious and gorgeously shot. A cinematic treat.

 

Expropriating my Sawmill

The Forest

There is no film poster available at the time of publication

Director: Roman Zhigalov

Cast: Oleg Shibayev, Natalya Rychlova, Oleg Feoktistov, Maria Avramkova

As seen at DIFF 2018 https://durbanfilmfest.co.za/

Spoiler Alert Valid for Date of Commercial Release if applicable

As the 2018 Durban International Film Festival coincided with the BRICS Summit happening in Johannesburg and the BRICS Film Festival which ran concurrently with DIFF2018, there were many films from Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Whilst I am a fan of all films from these countries, I have also been particularly impressed with Russian cinema as its cinematic style is so refreshingly foreign and opposite to commercial American cinema. Director Nikita Mikhailkov’s brilliant and cutting political drama Burnt by the Sun (1994) comes to mind, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1995.

At DIFF 2018, I watched director Roman Zhigalov gut-wrenching family drama The Forest set in rural Russia.

The Forest is a depressing tale about the implosion of a nuclear family, whereby the father’s sawmill gets expropriated by the state (the government actually burns it down as the father is unwilling to hand it over to the state), which should be a lesson about the economic consequences should South Africa’s ruling party’s proceed incautiously with the ridiculous decision to expropriate land without compensation, a burning political issue ahead of the 2019 National Elections.

The ideology of expropriation is essentially communist and director Roman Zhigalov makes this statement very clear in The Forest as well as highlighting many of the social ills currently plaguing Russia including rampant alcoholism, rape, teen pregnancy and a clearly disillusioned working class, who are constantly bullied by state officials.

The Forest tells the story of sixteen year old boy Danila who has an illicit affair with Katya a woman twice his age which leads to devastating and violent consequences both in their community and beyond.

Beautifully shot and well edited, The Forest is a stark reminder that poverty stricken rural Russia is a far cry from the tourist friendly images of Moscow and St Petersburg which frequently flashed across the international media during the recent 2018 FIFA World Cup held across Russia.

Stylistically brutal and uncompromising, The Forest is for serious viewers of Russian cinema and those that are not easily offended by rape scenes, drunken violence and nuclear families being torn apart by sexual repression and betrayal. Not for sensitive viewers.

The Forest gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is possibly one of the most depressing films I have seen all year. Clearly it was director Roman Zhigalov intention to show cinematic realism in all its horrifying detail.

 

On The Border

The Recce

Director: Johannes Ferdinand van Zyl

Cast: Greg Kriek, Christia Visser, Marius Weyers, Grant Swanby, Albert Maritz, Elsabe Daneel, Maurice Carpede

Set in 1981 in Angola and Apartheid South Africa, The Recce seen at the film’s premiere at the Durban International Film Festival (insert website) DIFF 2018, director Johannes Ferdinand van Zyl combines some stylistic flourishes to create a vivid and tense depiction of the experiences of the films main hero Henk Viljoen a Recce who is caught behind enemy lines and presumed Killed In Action.

South African star Greg Kriek brilliantly plays Henk who leaves his pregnant wife Nicola played by Christia Visser behind as he ventures forth deep within enemy territory, behind the Angolan border in a treacherous guerrilla war which claimed many lives and was a clandestine Southern African war of attrition fought by the Apartheid South African government far north in the then Soviet infiltrated Angola, just above Namibia which was then known as South West Africa.

With the dialogue mainly in Afrikaans, The Recce is a brave portrayal of a soldier’s desire to survive in an increasingly cruel and hostile landscape where no one can be trusted.

Grant Swanby (Beyond the River) plays Henk’s English speaking corporal Corporal Le Roux, who realizes that they are all fighting a pointless war in brutal terrain. Also featured in the cast are well known South African stage and screen actor Marius Weyers (Blood Diamond, Gandhi) as the hard-drinking General Piet Visagie and Maurice Carpede as Impi Buthelezi.

Watching The Recce is like watching the Afrikaans version of Peter Berg’s nail biting military drama Lone Survivor and those that enjoy a well-orchestrated war film should see this South African film depicting a distinct period in this country’s history which left an indelible mark on the South African older white male psyche particularly those that were military active in the early 1980’s prior to the transition to democracy in 1994.

Despite some tangential scenes in the film’s first half, director Johannes Ferdinand van Zyl’s The Recce is as engrossing as it is terrifying and has a particularly brilliant ending, one which will shock audiences and leave them questioning the futility of warfare.

Due to its very specific subject matter, The Recce will obviously have more resonance in South Africa than internationally as the film refers to the 1980’s, a turbulent decade in this country’s fascinating and multi-dimensional history.

Strictly for fans of decent war films, The Recce gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10.

Damaging Boundaries

The Tale

Director: Jennifer Fox

Cast: Laura Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Common, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Frances Conroy, Isabelle Nelisse, John Heard

Spoiler Alert Valid until airing on M-Net on Monday 6th August 2018

Please note that this is a Made for TV film and will not be released in commercial cinemas.

Documentary filmmaker Jennifer Fox creates a searing autobiographical film called The Tale which had its South African premiere at the Durban International Film Festival DIFF 2018 https://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za/.

The Tale features a superb performance by Emmy and Golden Globe winner Laura Dern (Big Little Lies) who plays a fictionalized version of director Jennifer Fox who has to confront strange and uncomfortable memories of her past as a young girl, when her mother played by Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) discovers a story she wrote when she was thirteen about an illicit affair that she had with a creepy gym coach, 40 year old divorcee Bill played with suitably skin-crawling detail by Jason Ritter.

As the narrative of The Tale unwinds through a series of carefully constructed flashbacks, Jennifer is forced to confront the fact that while she was doing horse riding on a farm in the Carolina’s with the strict Mrs G, crisply played by The Night Manager star Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) she was not only groomed for child abuse but becoming the victim.

The Tale confronts in horrific detail the strange and bizarre almost Lolita like affair that Bill initiates  with the young Jennifer expertly played by Isabelle Nelisse in many scenes that would be deeply disturbing to sensitive viewers.

Released by HBO films, The Tale is a made for Television film. Director Jennifer Fox beautifully reveals to audiences the nature of memory and the action taken by the grown-up Jennifer to confront her abuser. This significant film is a harrowing and brave account of child abuse which is especially pertinent in the era of the #MeToo Campaign.

Anchored by nuanced performances by both Dern who is nominated again at the 2018 Emmy Awards and Ellen Burstyn, The Tale is highly recommended viewing and intelligently explores the elusive nature of forgotten childhood memories which frequently blur the lines of morality and shows that any form of abuse damages boundaries both psychologically and sexually.

The Tale won Best Screenplay at DIFF 2018 and is also nominated for Best Limited Series or TV Movie at the Primetime Emmy Awards which is taking place in September 2018. The Tale will be aired on the South African subscription channel M-Net on Monday 6th August 2018.

The Tale gets a film rating of 8 out of 10.

 

 

 

Initiates and Caregivers

The Wound

(INXEBA)

Director: John Trengrove

Cast: Nakhane Toure, Bongile Mantsai, Niza Jay, Thobani Mseleni

Director John Trengrove’s film The Wound about ritual circumcision practices in the rural Xhosa community is sure to generate discussions around patriarchy, cultural taboos and more controversially homosexuality.

The Wound premiered internationally at the Sundance Film Festival http://www.sundance.org/festivals/sundance-film-festival/ held in Park City, Utah in January 2017 and later opened the Berlinale Panorama at the Berlin International Film Festival in the same month.

The Wound had its South African premiere at the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) in July 2017 http://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za/ At the 38th Durban International Film Festival, John Trengrove won Best Director for The Wound and Nakhane Toure  who plays the main character Xolani deservedly won Best Actor.

The Wound also had its premiered at the 7th Annual Durban Gay and Lesbian Film Festival http://www.dglff.org.za/

Scheduled for commercial release in South Africa in early 2018, The Wound is already generating controversy and passionate discussion on social media and given the amount of publicity around the film it is sure to inject life into contemporary 21st century South African film analysis.

The story focuses on a lonely factory worker Xolani who works in Johannesburg but travels back to the mountains of the Eastern Cape to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood through the Xhosa cultural practice of ritual circumcision under the supervision of his male tribal elders.

The Wound is about a sexually charged love triangle between Xolani played by Nakhane Toure, Vija played by Bongile Mantsai and the young Kwanda played with a precocious abandonment by Niza Jay framed within an almost secretive cultural practice of the Xhosa ritual circumcision ceremonies which takes place in the mountainous Eastern Cape province of South Africa.

As a piece of cinema, The Wound is riveting entertainment and certainly an eye opener in many respects beautifully directed by John Trengrove who in keeping with the desire to make an authentic ethnographic film smartly has all the dialogue in Xhosa and has no female characters since the narrative focuses on the complex relationships between initiates and caregivers which dominates many patriarchal societies especially where rights of manhood are concerned.

Comparisons are there for many viewers in similar societies internationally, but what is more perplexing about The Wound is Xolani’s ultimate choice to free himself of his hidden sexual identity. A choice which appears to be devoid of moral consequence.

The Wound is a fascinating portrayal of masculinity, hidden love and how society shapes rituals to transform teenage boys into brave and tough men. Which is also not specific to the Xhosa tribe, but to many other cultures and nationalities worldwide where it is imperative to prepare the men for a prescribed role of familial provider, defender and protector.

Provocatively, The Wound will certainly generate significant discussion around visual interpretations of patriarchy and sexuality which makes the film all the more relevant, relentless and resonant.

Highly recommended viewing, The Wound is film making at its best and should fare brilliantly as South Africa’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2018 Academy Awards aka the Oscars. If it does get nominated, then The Wound will join a canon of international world cinema which delves intimately into subjects which are essentially taboo in their home countries.

The Wound gets a Film Rating of 8.5 out 10. Ultimately, the wider audience needs to see this film and challenge their own preconceptions.

 

The Exiled King

The Exception

Director: David Leveaux

Cast: Jai Courtney, Lily James, Christopher Plummer, Janet McTeer, Eddie Marsan, Ben Daniels, Anton Lesser, Mark Dexter

After its packed South African premiere at the 38th Durban International Film Festival, http://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za/ The Exception is a riveting World War II drama told from the German perspective.

Set in Holland in 1940, German soldier Stefan Brandt played with bravado by Jai Courtney (Suicide Squad, A Good Day to Die Hard) is sent to guard the exiled king Wilhelm II wonderfully played by Oscar winner Christopher Plummer (Beginners).

At the end of World War One when the allies defeated Germany, besides the harsh reparations placed on the defeated nation, one of the conditions of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles was that the reigning German monarch Kaiser Wilhelm II be stripped of his royal title and sent to live in exile in Utrecht, Holland.

British director David Leveaux assembles a fantastic cast in this interesting film also starring Lily James (Baby Driver, Cinderella) as a sexually provocative Dutch maid Mieke de Jong who quickly falls in love with the handsome and tough Brandt and Oscar nominee Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs) as Kaiser Wilhelm’s wife, Princess Hermine who is desperately hoping that her exiled husband will have his monarchy restored even though Germany has entered the Third Reich under the ruthless Nazi’s who have started World War II.

Eddie Marsan (Their Finest, Happy Go Lucky, Concussion) appears as the creepy Head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, in a brief yet comical scene stealer.

As a historical film, The Exception is a watchable tale, filled with intrigue, sexual conquest and lost dreams although its relevance will be lost on a mostly English speaking audience and also because most of the cast are British, Canadian or Australian actors playing German characters. If audiences want authenticity they should watch the excellent 2015 German film, The People vs. Fritz Bauer, which also premiered at #DIFF2017 http://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za/ as part of the German Film Focus.

Nevertheless, as a World War II thriller which deviates from the usual Allied scenario, The Exception is enjoyable in the same vein as director Mark Herman’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

What does stand out in The Exception, are the fine performances of Christopher Plummer and Janet McTeer but sadly their acting will probably be overlooked in the 2018 Oscar race.

Concisely written with an engaging plot, The Exception gets a film rating of 7.5 out 10 and was an impressive film to be screened at the Durban International Film Festival, attracting a full cinema house.

Recommended viewing for audiences that prefer a provocative World War Two thriller from the perspective of the so-called enemy.

 

Film Directors & Festivals
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September 2019
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