South African films find winning ways
Culminating a week of winning news, Gavin Hood's 'Tsotsi' received the Critics Jury award for Best South African feature film at the Cape Town World Cinema Festival on 19 November. Hood was in Hollywood for the long, arduous 2006 Oscar-nomination lobby process, beginning with a screening of Tsotsi for the Foreign Press Association.
A robust line-up of twelve home-grown feature films vied for the SA prize, including 'uCarmen eKhayelitsha' (special mention), 'Homecoming', 'The Flyer', 'Dollars and White Pipes', 'Crazy Monkey -Straight Out of Benoni', 'Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon', 'Lion of Soweto', 'Mama Jack', 'Wah-Wah', 'Zulu Love Letter' and 'Faith's Corner'. The Critics' Jury said Darrell Roodt, director of Faith's Corner, "went to the gutters to find a jewel".
First at the end of the rainbow
Honours for Best Feature Film went to 'Private', in which Italian director Saverio Costanzo "explored the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in all its complexity". The jury described it as "a master class in how to work with limited resources".
Angolan filmmaker Zeze Gamboa claimed the coveted Best African Feature film for 'The Hero', noted by jurors as an "intimate and tender" depiction of healing out of the "brutal truths of war".
Best Director kudos went to Vietnamese director Minh Nguyen-Vo, whose 'Buffalo Boy' was commended for its "unforgettable images and timeless rhythms", while Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke and Paula Markovitch won Best Writer for the screenplay of 'Duck Season'. "We were impressed by a sharp, beautifully constructed story fuelled by a lively imagination. The writers crafted unpredictable teenage characters and gave them just the right words," the jury commented.
Ismael Ferroukhi from Morocco got special mention in the Best Feature Film category for his powerful drama 'Le Grand Voyage', which "scaled the high walls of religion and culture" to offer "a rare vantage point on one of the pillars of Islam."
The Festival's Short Film Jury recognised the work of Belgian director Daniel Cattier for his 16-minute 'African Middleweight', about a boxer who is told by his European promoters to throw a fight at the time of Congo's independence. Cattier's film edged out 12 other competitors in a strong field that boasted eight South African entrants.
Francois Verster underlined his standing as a pre-eminent documentary filmmaker when he won Best film in this genre for 'The Mother's House'. The jury was fulsome in its praise for a director who crossed race and gender lines to tell an intimate story in a women's household, saying his brave, risky film went "against the rules of storytelling" and departed radically from conventions.
Raoul Peck's moving rendition of survival of the Rwandan genocide, 'Sometimes in April', was a clear winner of the Human Rights Network Jury award. Sponsored by rights organisations around the world, this jury recognises feature films that "educate, inform and raise consciousness". The panel was impressed by the film's "strong sense of place and authenticity." South African actress Pamela Nomvete, who took a lead role in the film, accepted the award on Peck's behalf.
Another powerful feature, 'Paradise Now' - "a gripping insiders' perspective" of Palestinians under Israeli occupation - earned special mention.
Youthful and witty German director Hans Weingartner won the Signis Jury Prize for 'The Edukators', a popular choice of Cape Town festival audiences. Clearly enjoying his time in the laid-back seaside city, Weingartner wished his audience "peace, love and happiness".
Newcomers and others
South African director Khalo Matabane took the Lionel Ngakane Prize for Most Promising Filmmaker with 'Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon', which the jurors said "marks the arrival of an original new voice on the world stage, and new possibilities for South African cinema".
Thabo Mvumvu, an emerging filmmaker from Gugulethu in Cape Town, accepted the National Lotteries' Newcomer award for his 26-minute 'What Goes Around Comes Around', about a reveller who wants to take revenge on his muggers, shot on location in the Cape Flats.
He also got the Jameson Short Film Award, a cash prize from the Irish Whisky makers that is given in twenty cities around the world. He thanked his township crew and actors, who had the get-up-and-go to make "budgetless" films and called on the industry to support the initiatives of his co-operative venture, Molweni.
Gifted South African actors proved their world-class calibre when Presley Chweneyagae, in 'Tsotsi', and Mpumi Malatsi, in 'Zulu Love Letter', scooped Best Actor and Actress. Head juror South African poet Wally Serote praised Chweneyagae's "ability to draw his audience into the soul of a despised character ... [bringing] an impressive mix of compassion, rage and naiveté to his performance".
Mpumi Malatsi, who cannot hear or speak, stole the audience's hearts when she gave a brief 'speech' - a radiant smile and a skyward wave of thanks that expressed her joy at winning Best Actress. The jury was moved by Malatsi's "heartfelt emotive performance [in Zulu Love Letter] - without words, this young woman spoke volumes".
Soon on a screen near you
A significant part of the Cape Town World Cinema Festival is the co-production forum, an aspect of the Sithengi market that gives filmmakers a platform to pitch their work to producers, distributors and agents from Africa and around the world, with incentives for the best pitch. The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) award for Best Documentary project went to Hanli Prinsloo for her upcoming 'Oupa'.
Matthew Brown won the Best Feature Film project prize, presented by the Hubert Bals and Goteborg Film Funds, for 'Leaving the Cape'. Brown developed the script in Amsterdam and is working with Big World Pictures in Cape Town to make it a reality. He also won an opportunity to advance his project with an all-expenses ticket to the Cinemart in Amsterdam to look for backers.
Festival director and CEO of Sithengi, Michael Auret, announced that a number of young filmmakers who had developed film ideas in this year's Sithengi Talent Campus would get the opportunity to screen their work on SABC Africa.
The jury congratulated filmmakers for engaging the most urgent conflicts facing the world today, saying the films offered "glimpses of hope".