Durban Fest Offers Rare Spotlight on African Cinema

The scenic port city will once again play host to a regional film event that presents local filmmakers with some much-needed exposure.

The Durban International Film Festival, which takes place from July 18 to 28 in Durban, South Africa, is one of the few festivals in the world to spotlight African cinema.

The festival, founded in 1979 as a three-week, single venue event, will this year feature roughly 300 screenings consisting of 72 feature films, 48 documentaries and 45 short-films in 11 venues.

Festival manager Peter Machen says the Durban fest is especially important to attendees, because it offers an opportunity for locals to see films that are not normally screened in the region.

“While festivals remain an important avenue for watching alternative cinema around the world, in Southern Africa they are even more significant as we have such limited access to all but the most mainstream cinema,” he said.

This year there is much buzz around the opening film Of Good Report. Written and directed by South African filmmaker Jahmil XT Qubeka, the drama tells the tale of forbidden love between a troubled high school teacher and a girl who eventually becomes one of his students. Of Good Report is a groundbreaking tribute to film noir and will have its world premiere at the festival.

Other highly anticipated films include the international co-production Layla Fourie, which premiered at Berlin this year, Something Necessary, the new film from Tom Tykwer's One Fine Day Films and the Battle of Tabato. More well-known fare includes The Place Behind the Pines, art house darling Derek Cianfrance's follow-up to Blue Valentine,  as well as The Past from Asghar Farhadi, whose A Separation won Best Film at DIFF last year, as well as the Oscar for best foreign language film.

The only animated feature at the festival, Khumba, is the second film from production house Triggerfish Animation Studios, also known as South Africa’s Pixar. The film’s director, Anthony Silverston, says Durban offers a strong showcase for African talent that might not be on the global film industry radar.

“It is important for South Africa to have such an established festival as it helps focus attention on our country in various ways -- reminding the world of its beautiful locations or highlighting the growth of local industry," he said. "Any opportunity to showcase films from the African diaspora is great since it allows another voice to be seen and heard on the world stage.”

Each year the festival hosts an array of workshops, seminars and discussion forums which focus on developing emerging and established film-makers. The casual nature of the events offer the opportunity to socialize with directors, actors and producers at coffee shops, pre- and post-parties or at intimate gatherings.

For the past four years the DIFF, together with the Durban Film Office, have fostered the co-production of the Durban Film Mart. The program runs in conjunction with DIFF and offers film financing for African filmmakers, master classes as well as great networking opportunities, especially for local producers and filmmakers looking for the all-important international co-production partners. 

Says Machen: “This festival is hugely important in terms of growing the local film industry and encouraging co-production relationships with production companies from around the world.”