/ 22 February 2024

Tapestry of life through the lens of film

Inshallah a Boy
A scene from Inshallah a Boy, which will be screened at the Johannesburg Film Festival.

Nhlanhla Ndaba and his co-curators watched more than 200 films in the lead-up to the Johannesburg Film Festival, which opens on 27 February. 

“Before we agree for the film to be in the festival, we watch every film. 

“We discuss every film we receive. We sit and we argue over all 200 films until we find our final selection of films,” says Ndaba, who is also a producer and director. 

“When I tell people that I don’t go to cinemas outside of festivals, they think I am mad.” 

Their yardstick for the films they select boils down to one thing. 

“We are hoping that people are going to learn new things. The most exciting thing about film is how it’s able to bring new life to old issues. 

“It’s not about educating people but it’s just about shining a light in a different way to old issues, to old topics that are already happening.”

There will be 74 films at the sixth edition of the film festival:  60 feature films and 14 short films. 

Ndaba says to expect an array of local as well as international films. 

A recurring theme is displacement — of the Palestinian people, Ukrainians and people in South Sudan and Northern Mozambique. Displacement of people who seek belonging and acceptance. Many of the filmmakers brought films came from a place of wanting to belong. 

“We have a film called Bye Bye Tiberius, which looks at the world through the eyes of four generations of Palestinian women from the same family,” Ndaba gives as an example. 

“It’s a documentary made by the fourth generation of that particular family. She looks at her mother, she looks at her grandmother, and she looks at her great-grandmother, and their relationship and how their relationship was interrupted by the events that are now so obviously taking place in Palestine.”

Another film that touches on dislocation is All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White, which tells the love story of two Nigerian men who have to pretend to be just friends because of the harsh laws in their country which affect members of the LGBTIQA+ community. 

“All of these films are about finding a home, a place where you belong, which was the theme of a lot of the movies we received,” says Ndaba.  

Other important themes explored in the films on the festival are diversity and representation.

Films from this continent had the edge when they were choosing. 

“We prioritise African films, however, we also look at films that break barriers,” Ndaba says.

He says that Inshallah a Boy is one such barrier-breaking movie. 

Inshallah a Boy is about patriarchy and how you survive as a woman in a patriarchal society. 

“This woman loses her husband and the brother of the husband comes and wants to claim her home. 

“It’s a world where women are just overlooked and, unless you have a boy child, you don’t exist.”

This speaks to what is happening in our backyards. In townships, every other street has a home with a sign saying, “This house is not for sale.” A lot of the time, these homes belong to windowed women who are abused and threatened by men who want to take their assets from them — in the name of their dead partners. 

Ndaba says it does not end there. “When you look at how the high levels of rape, the high levels of GBV, it speaks to that mentality. You hate being a man after watching this film. You ask why we live in a world that allows for such things to happen.” 

As the curtains go up on the festival, Ndaba and his team invite audiences to explore the rich tapestry of humanity through the lens of cinema. 

“We hope that people will come through, watch, improve conversations and have different perspectives on different issues that are happening in the world through this year’s selection of films,” he says, his enthusiasm contagious. 

Just don’t invite him to see a movie with you after the festival.

The Johannesburg Film Festival is on from 27 February to 3 March.