‘Train of Salt and Sugar’ named best film at In­au­gu­ral Joburg Film Fes­ti­val

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Brazil­ian-born helmer Licinio Azevedo’s pow­er­ful Mozam­bi­can war drama, “Train of Salt and Sugar,” was named best film at the first Joburg Film Fes­ti­val, which wrapped Nov 5 in Jo­han­nes­burg. Set in Mozam­bique in the 1980s, dur­ing the coun­try’s bru­tal civil war, pic of­fered a hu­mane por­trait of the risks or­di­nary peo­ple faced as they strug­gled for sur­vival, with the jury not­ing how it “tri­umphs in show­ing the re­silience of the hu­man spirit.” Ac­cept­ing on be­half of Azevedo, pro­ducer Elias Ribeiro ex­pressed his grat­i­tude to the Jo­han­nes­burg au­di­ences, say­ing, “We were show­ered with love this whole week.”

The award for best African film went to Zola Maseko’s “The Whale Caller,” an adap­ta­tion of South African scribe Zakes Mda’s novel about an un­likely love tri­an­gle be­tween a man, a whale, and the woman who comes be­tween them. Prais­ing its “fa­ble-like qual­ity” while draw­ing a con­trast to the more con­ven­tional out­put of a South African film biz which typ­i­cally hews to Hol­ly­wood-style sto­ry­telling, the jury sin­gled out its “unique­ness, po­etry, and strength of imag­i­na­tion.”

Vet­eran doc­u­men­tar­ian Re­had De­sai took home hon­ors for best South African film for “The Gi­ant is Fall­ing,” a hard-hit­ting por­trait of the coun­try’s on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal tur­moil, which fol­lowed on the heels of his Emmy-win­ning “Min­ers Shot Down.” Ac­cept­ing the award, which came with a cash prize, De­sai dead­panned, “I could pay my chil­dren’s school fees now. Drinks are on me tonight.” A jury spe­cial men­tion was also given to “The Wed­ding Ring,” by Rah­ma­tou Keita, of Niger, for its mov­ing tale of a young woman suf­fer­ing from the pain of lost love.

For a fes­ti­val meant to show­case the dy­namism of South Africa’s cul­tural and eco­nomic en­gine, it was a slug­gish clos­ing night, as auds trick­led in for a brief awards cer­e­mony that was fol­lowed by the African pre­miere of Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Na­tion.” Per­haps it was a fit­ting way to wrap the first edi­tion, with fest con­sul­tant Lesedi Oluko Moche, the clos­ing night’s em­cee, al­lud­ing to “the bumpy and rough edges” of a fes­ti­val that seemed at times to be learn­ing on the fly. “There were cine­mas packed with peo­ple and some packed with crick­ets,” Moche ac­knowl­edged. “We’ve had ex­hil­a­rat­ing highs and dev­as­tat­ing lows.”

With empty seats scat­tered through­out the theater, it was a night marked by ab­sence. Many in the coun­try’s tight-knit film in­dus­try were still reel­ing from the pass­ing of vet­eran pro­ducer Ju­naid Ahmed, who died Thurs­day in Dur­ban at the age of 57. Con­do­lences poured in on so­cial me­dia through­out the weekend, with ac­tress Thishiwe Ziqubu writ­ing on Twit­ter, “We are richer hav­ing had him in our lives.” Moche also took time to ac­knowl­edge what she called “the ele­phant in the film in­dus­try room,” tack­ling the is­sue of women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion that was a fre­quent topic in pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions in Jo­han­nes­burg through­out the week.

Strong fe­male leads

Point­ing to a lack of di­ver­sity in the fes­ti­val pro­gram, she called out her in­dus­try col­leagues to open the door for more fe­male di­rec­tors, as well as films with strong fe­male leads. “The Joburg Film Fes­ti­val is not ex­empt from the obli­ga­tion of com­ing to the party,” she said. “We should and we can do bet­ter.” Moche then sin­gled out the fe­male helmers in at­ten­dance, prais­ing “their in­sis­tence on telling sto­ries in an in­dus­try that tells you should not.” De­spite the bumps along the way, the fes­ti­val wrapped with a sense of con­vic­tion that this cos­mopoli­tan city of­fers a unique po­ten­tial to be­come a cross­roads of the African and in­ter­na­tional film worlds.

The de­ci­sion to pair the fest’s first edi­tion with Dis­cop Africa, the con­ti­nent’s largest TV con­tent mar­ket, also sig­naled the in­tent of the or­ga­niz­ers and the lo­cal gov­ern­ment to use the JFF as a driver to grow the South African film biz. As the fes­ti­val turned its eyes to­ward next year’s sec­ond edi­tion, there was no small sense of tri­umph at a time when the host coun­try has been reel­ing from a string of po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic crises. “One of the many suc­cesses of the Joburg Film Fes­ti­val is that it hap­pened,” said Moche, to rous­ing ap­plause.

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