South Africa’s movie industry gained the international spotlight when Gavin Hood’s film Tsotsi won the Academy Award in 2005 for Best Foreign Language Film. Suddenly people were looking at South African film in a new light. Since then the dust has settled and we don’t hear as much about films coming from South Africa. But there are many stories still being told in film celebrating the rich culture, diversity and documenting the history of the struggles South African people have endured both past and present.
November 1-2, 2014 the first Toronto South African Film Festival was launched with films being screened at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Jackman Hall theatre. The festival was inspired by the Vancouver South African Film Festival which has been running successfully for the last four years. One might argue that having a festival like this isn’t relevant to the Canadian market, but that just isn’t true. Toronto is known as a hub for cultural diversity so what better place than there to have such an event celebrating film and culture from SA. “As a multicultural space, with all kinds festivals and events that celebrate people of all walks of life, TSAFF fits perfectly,” said Terence Mbulaheni, Director of Films and Programming of the festival. “Torontonians have an appetite for all kinds of creative work that comes from around the world, and South African films were the missing piece in this amazing melting pot.”
The lineup of films included everything from animation to documentary and feature film. It was an array of stories told from the South African perspective and was met with high praises. Khumba, which also screened as an official selection at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, was the first film of the weekend. An animated story about a Zebra born with half his stripes and he sets out on a quest to find the place where he believes he will get all his stripes. It was a relatable tale about the struggle with feeling different and wanting to fit in. Something most people have felt at least once in their lives.
See the trailer for Khumba below:
I enjoyed watching Under the African Skies, which was a documentary that captured Paul Simon’s return to SA for the first time since he left there after recording his monumental album Graceland. The film, which opened to a full house, uncovered a behind the scenes look at what Simon went through to create the album, the resistance he faced during the apartheid sanctions against the country, new friendships formed and why it was such an important part of music history.
I thought one of the most compelling films screened was Miners Shot Down, by Rehad Desai. The film documented the days leading up to the tragic killing of 34 miners who were amongst men on strike from one of South Africa’s largest platinum mining companies. The men were simply demanding higher wages for the work they do and what should have been a peaceful negotiation turned into a tragic incident still under investigation. The film’s director was on hand after the film for an interesting Q&A session that brought out some insightful points.
There are so many things about this incident that raise questions about how law enforcement handled the situation. It was truly an injustice what happened to those men who lost their lives and hundreds of others who were injured. To learn more visit the website http://www.minersshotdown.co.za/ where you can purchase the DVD to see for yourself and make your own judgement on how the situation played out.
Watch the trailer for Miners Shot Down below:
Films from African countries don’t often get the same level of promotion like Hollywood films do. “One of TSAFF’s objectives is to open a platform and make Canadians aware of what South African filmmakers have to offer,” Mbulaheni remarked. “There are great films that are coming from South Africa and relevant to the Canadian audience and TSAFF seeks to bridge the gap.” After all the hard work bringing this festival together Mbulaheni was happy with how things unfolded. “We are really proud and grateful for all the amazing support we’ve received from the Toronto community. The festival was a great success and we are looking forward to next year,” he said.
For more information on the festival and how you can get involved for next year or make a donation, visit the website at www.tsaff.ca