#Awk­ward open­ing night at Dur­ban film fest

CityPress - - News - CHARL BLIGNAUT charl.blignaut@city­press.co.za

It was al­ways go­ing to be a bit of a dif­fi­cult night, given the drama around the an­nounce­ment of the im­por­tant open­ing film at the 37th Dur­ban In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val (Diff). And there were plenty of awk­ward mo­ments at The Play­house theatre com­plex – but also plenty of big laughs at the screen­ing of the lo­cal doc­u­men­tary The Jour­ney­men, in which three young pho­tog­ra­phers travel the coun­try record­ing the ter­ri­fy­ing idio­syn­cra­sies of our democ­racy 22 years on.

The drama in ques­tion in­volved the res­ig­na­tion of fes­ti­val man­ager Sarah Daw­son and other staff mem­bers over what they re­garded as in­ter­fer­ence in the se­lec­tion process when fes­ti­val own­ers the Uni­ver­sity of KwaZulu-Na­tal’s Cen­tre for the Creative Arts over­ruled the se­lec­tors and chose Anant Singh-pro­duced, apartheid-era film Shep­herds and Butch­ers to open the fes­ti­val when he queried why he had not re­ceived the hon­our.

But then Singh with­drew his film, un­happy with the time slot when the new man­ager, Peter Machen, in­stead chose The Jour­ney­men to open the fes­ti­val. And then there was an­other twist when one of the stars of The Jour­ney­men, Sipho Mpongo, was re­vealed – by City Press – to have been found guilty of sex­ual as­sault of a fel­low stu­dent at the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town.

The de­ci­sion to ini­tially choose Shep­herds and Butch­ers was made by deputy vice-chan­cel­lor and head of hu­man­i­ties Pro­fes­sor Ch­eryl Pot­gi­eter.

Pot­gi­eter usu­ally makes a speech at Diff’s open­ing, but not this year. In­stead, it was an­nounced that there was a new ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Cen­tre for the Creative Arts, Pro­fes­sor Donal Mc­Cracken, and – af­ter three rud­der­less years – a new direc­tor, David wa Maahlamela.

Maahlamela opened his speech in isiZulu and spoke, he said, largely off the cuff.

He quoted a line from Charles Dick­ens – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” – which he at­trib­uted to “some writer”.

Maahlamela made sev­eral ref­er­ences to the open­ing-night saga, but not di­rectly, leav­ing some au­di­ence mem­bers con­fused. “This fes­ti­val is big­ger than in­di­vid­ual egos,” he said, at­tempt­ing to put the is­sues to rest. In his speech, Machen ac­knowl­edged that Daw­son and for­mer col­league Jack Chi­ang had pro­grammed this year’s fes­ti­val.

Af­ter the screen­ing of the ro­bust and of­ten out­ra­geous doc­u­men­tary came an­other dif­fi­cult mo­ment. Mpongo took the mi­cro­phone and spoke awk­wardly about the uni­ver­sity’s sex­ual as­sault rul­ing against him, which he at one stage re­ferred to as “a bit of an en­counter”. He spoke about his vul­ner­a­bil­ity and how he had taken time off to ex­am­ine his ac­tions, re­ha­bil­i­tate and start a blog on “what it means to be a man in South Africa to­day”. His state­ment re­ceived ap­plause, though many in the au­di­ence who had not fol­lowed the story were left per­plexed.

The af­ter­party at the theatre re­stored guests’ hu­mour, as wine washed down lash­ings of meat and chicken.

Peter Machen, act­ing direc­tor of the Dur­ban In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, and em­cee Hlubi Mboya

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