A moving portrait of courage and defiance

In a voice cracking with emotion, Doris Pilkington gave a heartbreaking account of her and her people’s devastating experience under the inhuman policies of the Australian government in the mid-20th Century.

The capacity crowd on the opening night of the 23rd Durban International Film Festival, at the University of Natal’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, had already been stunned into silence by Rabbit-Proof Fence. The film version of Pilkington’s award-winning book Follow The Rabbit-Proof Fence kicked off the event on September 2.

The film tells the story of three young half-caste Aboriginal girls who are forcibly removed from their families to attend prison-like Christian orphanages as part of a programme to literally “breed out the native” in them.

After the screening Pilkington described in harrowing detail how entire generations were destroyed as a result of this brutal racial fanaticism.
If there were a few dry eyes in the house after the film, there certainly weren’t any after Pilkington told how her mother and her own children were prised from their mother’s arms, never to be seen again.

Rabbit-Proof Fence is a moving portrait of courage and defiance as the three girls, Molly, Gracie and Daisy, escape from the clutches of their captors and embark upon a tortuous three-month trek across the Australian outback to get home. It is the true story of Pilkington’s mother and, as if the film itself didn’t engender enough anger and sorrow in the viewer, Pilkington’s personal embodiment of generations of Aborigines who have known nothing but pain and suffering made the emotional scale of the film and the experience it depicts all the more searing.

Rabbit-Proof Fence also closed the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg on September 4. It was brought to South Africa by Anant Singh’s VideoVision, which has brought to the Durban festival a further eight films of international calibre. In keeping with the festival’s aim to broaden the scope of local content (the contribution of films from Africa in the features and documentary components are more significant than ever before), VideoVision has made available Ken Kaplan’s Pure Blood, a South African political horror film that combines a New-Age black maid, blood-drinking zombie racists and a plot to poison a town with blood cakes. The film scooped the prestigious Lucio Fulci Award for Best First Film at the Rome Fantasy Festival.

Adding cinematic class from further afield is cult Japanese anime blockbuster Spirited Away (winner of the 2002 Golden Bear in Berlin); apocalyptic Polish/Japanese sci-fi thriller Avalon; Woody Allen’s dark satire Hollywood Ending; cinematic speedball of out-of-control American youth, Spun; mind-bending Spanish horror The Devil’s Backbone; masterful Australian ensemble narrative Lantana, and Nowhere In Africa, the multi award-winning German/Kenyan co-production about a German Jewish family that escapes just before the war and takes up a poverty-stricken existence in Kenya.

The films on offer in Durban are of such depth and variety it is almost impossible to single out any film without doing so at the expense of another. Suffice to say there’s something for everyone: from quirky curiosities such as Don’s Plum — the first film featuring Leonardo di Caprio and Tobey Maguire that both actors went to great lengths to have barred from release in the United States — to the inspired reimagination of Shakespeare’s Othello in a contemporary South African setting.

Aside from the almost 80 films on offer, the festival abounds with workshops, seminars, lecture programmes and outreach screenings that, until September 15, will transform Durban into a truly cinematic city.

For the programme of screenings and events visit www.und.ac.za/und/carts

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