LAST year provided a movie minefield of choices. But ultimately, the cinema side of the fest was less of a success than expected. Carsten Rasch and Trevor Steele-Taylor programmed an innovative selection of alternative films in their Sinema season including John Woo’s fabulous Hong Kong actioner Hard Boiled and Donald Cammel’s wildly erotic but virtually unseen Wild Side.
Hardly anyone pitched to see them and they barely managed to break even. The problem, Rasch says, was the glut of theatre and movie offerings. What’s more, the Fringe film venue, His Majesty’s, had a hole in the roof.
The Fringe line-up at His Majesty’s this year includes Spike Lee’s sparkling comedy Get on the Bus. And veteran cinephile James Polley has compiled a great season for the official film festival. Michael Lazarus of Osprey Films brings up the rear with screenings of weird and wonderful stuff at Rhodes University.
Adding to the political turmoil over screening films, the Odeon Cinema, which previously hosted the Osprey festival, has taken it upon itself to host a mini-festival rather than bring in outsiders. Inevitably, they’re showing films that have been screened in art-house malls before. These include The English Patient, Emma, Stealing Beauty, Shine and Larry Clark’s controversial Kids. Then there’s David Cronenberg’s even more corrosive automobile-erotic Crash. The cinema’s only premiere is When We Were Kings – the Academy Award-winning documentary featuring Mohammed Ali and George Foreman.
In the main line-up at the Monument, Dutch actor and artist Jeroen Krabbe will host a retrospective of his movies, including Paul Verhoeven’s Gothic masterpiece The Fourth Man, an elegant tale of sexual dalliances and murder. In addition, Chilean expatriate, human rights activist and playwright Ariel Dorfman will speak after a special screening of Roman Polanski’s adaptation of his play Death and the Maiden.
Ingmar Bergman, who always seems to creep up as the most distinguished cineaste of all time, is also featured in a retrospective at the Monument, with accompanying lectures and discussions held by Warren Snowball of the department of classics at Rhodes University. Also worth noting are screenings of Cries and Whispers, a visually seductive psycho-drama about broken marriages and women in pain, and his most cheerful piece, Fanny and Alexander, a masterful turn-of-the-century family saga. It was his last film, his most entertaining and probably his best.
Also in the main line-up of the festival is the African Film Focus and the best films on show are visionary director Djibril Diop Mambety’s two Senegalese masterpieces Touki Bouki, the African cousin of Bonnie and Clyde, and Hyenas, a mesmerising account of an old woman who returns to her former village to exact revenge.
The other must-see is Rue Princesse from the Ivory Coast, a gleeful and ironic comedy about prostitution, corrupt politicians, Aids and the enduring power of women.
South African films made over the past year will also be screened, including Les Blair’s Jump The Gun; Lesley Lawson’s entertaining and informative documentary God Bless Africa, which takes a critical look at missionaries in Southern Africa over the past 200 years; the Swiss film A Season In Paradise by Richard Dindo, a documentary on poet and artist Breyten Breytenbach; and Wasted, controversial Dutch-based film-maker Ian Kerkhoff’s much-vaunted movie about rave culture.
Because Grahamstown prides itself on being an academic town, every year the festival hosts a series of movies that tie in with lecturers droning on about some significant thing or other. This year academic and philosopher Johan Degenaar of the University of Stellenbosch will lead a discussion on “How Film Creates Meaning through Images”.
In another series, Dr Lesley Marx, senior lecturer in the department of English at UCT, will present “Telling Stories: Film and Fiction”, in which he’ll explore books that have been adapted for the screen.
On the fringe, Osprey is showing a number of cult classics. George Miller’s seminal sci-fi road movie Mad Max and Charles Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger are masterpieces. Stanley Kubrick’s ground-breaking take on Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, and Jane Campion’s deliriously dark and funny story of a mentally disabled young girl, Sweetie, are all well-worth catching.
Movie buffs should also note that Osprey, which will hold screenings at the university, will host the first public showing of Jeunet and Caro’s City of Lost Children, a beautifully mounted science-fiction movie with sets that’ll make you gasp.