Avantis laud small treasures

Matthew Krouse Down the tube

Television viewers will get a glimpse of last Saturday’s Avanti Awards when they air on SABC2 on Tuesday April 20 at 9.30pm.

The Avantis, held under the auspices of the National Television and Video Association, are now the only television awards in the country. This year, the ceremony was very grand and very long. And the food was very bad.

There was a valet service at the door - something I’ve never seen before - and it was quite weird seeing Gautengers readily parting with their keys.

It’s funny how we ape Hollywood - even in Midrand with its threatened cluster home developments and barren hills.
It stands to reason the drier the surroundings, the wetter fantasies seem to get. However horrible, it’s good for culture production - and these strange but interesting contradictions are slowly seeping on to home-grown television.

Some of our Hollywood aspirations are satirised in the witty sketches that peppered the Avantis. Hopefully these haven’t been cut in the broadcast of the event. Directed by Desiree Markgraaf, actor Robert Whitehead plays a hard-arsed television producer while Desmond Dube does a good job of a tremulous scriptwriter. Beyond the big talk and scaling down of ideas to meet cut-throat budgets, one got the message that the industry is one of big losers, who enjoy talking big.

Looking at this year’s winners, there were few surprises. Obviously, Yizo Yizo took the cake with five awards, including best drama series and best director, in a sort of retribution for their recent tribulations.

Going Up, winner of most of the comedy awards, was also an obvious choice in a category devoid of competition.

The big surprise of the night was the string of awards handed to the short film An Old Wife’s Tale, produced by M-Net as part of its New Directions initiative. It won four one-off drama awards: best director (Dumisane Phakathi), best actor (James Borthwick), best actress (Elise Cawood) and best supporting actress (Chantal Navitel). In a sordid twist, however, the crowning glory of this category (best drama one-off) went to Gavin Hood’s short film The Storekeeper, awarded nothing else.

With all the encouragement the short form has received, it’s not surprising that products of short film development schemes are getting accolades. This week sees the broadcast of the second part of the Africa Dreaming series. Mamlambo, directed by Palesa Letlaka Nkosi, shows on SABC2 on April 19 at 8pm. A shining example of the subject matter explored by the new generation of black filmmakers, it takes its cue from the series’ mission - the telling of love stories.

Like its milieu, Hillbrow, Mamlambo is wholly unpredictable, telling of the love between a streetchild and a Chinese prostitute. With superb cinematography by Giulio Bicarri, it shows a Hillbrow in which chance encounters can be warm. It won the award for best short film at the Abidjan Film festival late last year.

Mamlambo and An Old Wife’s Tale - small treasures that have won the recognition they deserve.

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