Berlin focuses on South Africa

One of the major players on the international film festival circuit is the prodigious Berlinale, whose Golden and Silver Bears awarded to the best films in competition are as highly prized by filmmakers as the coveted Palmes dished out at Cannes.

This year, from February 6 to 15, the 54th Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin takes place in the pulsating German capital and boasts a jaw-dropping cornucopia of film and film activity. Aside from the Official Competition Selection — whose jury is headed by Frances McDormand and which features 26 films, 19 world premieres, 18 countries and two debuts, including that of Country of My Skull, the United Kingdom/South African co-production of Antjie Krog’s novel directed by John Boorman, starring Samuel L Jackson and Juliette Binoche — there are two other aspects of the festival whose importance is equal to, if not greater than, that of the official selection.

Chief among these is the 34th International Forum of New Cinema, an event considered worldwide to be one of the most prestigious showcases for independent and alternative films as well as a barometer for future film trends.

As such, the global cinematic eye is firmly fixed on the forum, which showcases films from developing countries and gives voice to a cinema that exists outside established genres and is independent of market considerations.

Moreover, since this year the Berlin International Film Festival is focusing on South Africa, the forum programme features 10 films produced by young South African filmmakers as part of the Project 10: Real Stories from a Free South Africa initiative.

According to festival director Dieter Kosslick: “The works of directors from a variety of social and ethnic backgrounds courageously present intimate snapshots of life in this forward-looking country. Uncompromisingly, with eyes wide open and from numerous perspectives, they draw a true picture of the trials and triumphs of the rainbow nation’s fledgling steps to freedom. Never before has South African filmmaking been presented in such depth and breadth.”

The programme is supplemented by the three-hour German-South African documentary Memories of Rain by Gisela Albrecht and Angela Mai, which looks back at the struggle against apartheid.

The 10, hour-long films on show here are Home (Ikhaya) by Omelga Hlengiwe Mthiyane; Thru the Eyes of My Daughter by Zulfah Otto-Sallies; The Devil Breaks My Heart Ten Years Later by Laderle Bosch; Solly’s Story by Asivhanzhi Mathaba; Being Pavarotti by Odette Geldenhuys; Mix by Rudzani Dzuguda; The Meaning of the Buffalo by Karin Slater; Hot Wax by Anrea Spitz; Belonging by Kethiwe Ngcobo and Minky Schlesinger; and With My Children (Nabantwa Bam) by Khulile Nxumalo. Also featured in the forum is Western 4.33, the acclaimed experimental documentary by South African artist and filmmaker Aryan Kaganof (Ian Kerkhof), which takes an elliptical look at the German enslavement of the Herero people in turn-of-the-century Namibia.

Another highly progressive aspect of the festival is the second installation of the Berlinale Talent Campus, an initiative for the world’s up-and-coming and avant-garde film directors, which was inaugurated last year. According to talent manager Thomas Stück, the project is “principally an arena for know-how and inspiration. Emerging filmmakers meet experienced professionals from all cultures, generations and genres. The crème de la crème of the international film industry interacts with the bright young stars of tomorrow to put the finger on the pulse of the film of the future.” In the Berlinale Talent Campus the South African connection is kept alive with Claire Angelique, a final-year film student at the Cape Town International Film School, who was selected as one of the 26 invited participants out of about 4 000 applicants from around the world.

Said Stück of Angelique’s application: “Claire was selected because she has a lot of talent as a writer, director and actress in a very modern and mature way despite her young age. In her script, her characters narrated moments from their life in a way that was simultaneously real, subtle and honest.”

During the rigorous series of workshops that Angelique — a graduate of the recent ResFest Skills Programme — and her peers will undergo they will absorb the expertise of a variety of cinematic heavyweights such as Dennis Hopper, Spike Lee, Anthony Minghella, Wim Wenders, Tom Tykwer and Stephen Frears.

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