Quest for bums on seats

Two years ago, at the Sithengi Film and Television Market in Cape Town, a young director by the name of John Barker introduced the idea for a film about the lives of a couple of comedians. This year he received the Lionel Ngakane Award for most promising filmmaker.

In 2004 he came hoping to convince potential investors to finance the project. Barker found two willing candidates in Joel Phiri and Jeremy Nathan from DV8 Films.
This year, he was able to show off his final product, Bunny Chow, a comedy about three comedians who travel to the Oppikoppi rock festival and their antics along the way.

Opening this year’s World Cinema Film Festival, director Michael Auret said Sithengi has always tried to be the “alpha and omega of the film industry”, aiming to be there from the pitch, through production, to the premiere.

On the night of its South African premiere, an excited Barker exclaimed: “We’ve been to Toronto, we’ve been to Los Angeles, now it’s going to be very important to see how South Africans respond to it.” And respond the audience did—mostly positively, with laughter and applause. The film’s co-star David Kibuuka said that the point was not to make a movie “about race or politics or anything like that—just about our daily lives, that’s why we shot it in black and white, to de-emphasise the racial blah blah blah.”

No doubt there is an abundance of South African stories, beyond political dramas, waiting to be told. The Minister of Arts and Culture, Pallo Jordan, reiterated this point at Bunny Chow‘s premiere when he said: “Any period in South Africa’s history is full of the elements that make a good film—love, hate, conflict, betrayal, extreme conflict.”

This point is backed by musician and playwright David Kramer, who said: “It is very important for South African songwriters and filmmakers to tell their own stories, to be original, to talk about things they really understand, rather than copy and imitate. If we really get over that and believe in ourselves we will get somewhere.”

The next day, at a celebrity round table with guest of honour Morgan Freeman, an audience member asked if he would lobby support for South African films on his return to the United States. Freeman responded that it was not his place to do so. “I will certainly tell people about what I’ve seen here if they ask,” he continued. “But you’ve got to do it on your own.” 

Whatever Freeman’s opinion may be, this year’s Sithengi takes place in a different context to previous years. The Academy Award nomination for Yesterday, Tsotsi‘s Oscar glory, Presley Chweneyagae’s Black Movie Award over Denzel Washington and Cuba Gooding Jnr, plus director Francois Verster’s Emmy for A Lion’s Trail and the student Oscar for best foreign film by Afda student Tristan Holmes are among some of the achievements of the past two years. 

In its role as the continent’s biggest film and television market and festival, Sithengi is trying to build a local movie-going public. The Amarabella outreach programme is an important part of this. Since last year some of the films on the festival line-up have been shown in Gugulethu, Nyanga and Mitchells Plain and there is talk of Sithengi changing date and city, to accommodate more people.

Nadia Neophytou attended Sithengi as a journalist for Primedia Broadcasting: Talk Radio 702, 567 CapeTalk, 94.7 Highveld Stereo and Kfm 94.5

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