From humble beginnings in two lecture rooms at the University of KwaZulu-Natal 33 years ago, the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) has become the must-attend event in the annual film calendar.
For ten days in July this year, the who’s who of the South African film world brushed shoulders with actors and wannabe’s.
DIFF also provided a space for industry players to debate the state of the industry and its future in South Africa.
The thirty-third Festival showcased over 290 screenings at venues across Durban and in surrounding townships, such as KwaMashu.
The festival had something for everyone: from potential film students to filmmakers, producers, or just for movie buffs keen on the different genres on offer.
DIFF also hosted various film industry development initiatives, such as the Talent Campus Durban, which involved students and industry players.
However, it was clear that making films or documentaries costs money and (frankly) guts from those who want to tell their stories.
‘It’s a struggle to survive and to just make films,’ a young and upcoming filmmaker told Amandla at the Festival.
Man on Ground, directed by Akin Omotoso, is a story of the horrific xenophobic violence that many South Africans still prefer to ignore.
Omotose’s harsh film tells the story of Ade, a young Nigerian man living in London, who sets out to look for his estranged brother, who has become a political refugee in Johannesburg. The film is graphic, riveting and violent.
‘Xenophobia is not just a South African problem, it’s a global problem,’ Omotose told Amanda on the sidelines of the Festival.
It was certainly not easy telling this story.
‘It took two years to make and we started filming in 2011.’
‘We knew when we started it was going to be tough, but we got like-minded people together who contributed to making the film.’
As money was scarce they opted for ‘crowd funding’ to raise funds – an online method in which filmmakers pitch their stories online and people from different parts of the world, who believe that these stories need to be told, then make financial contributions to the making of the film. Omotose said that funding films in this way allows directors to make independent films.
Once money was sourced and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) came on board, Omotose was ready to roll.
His production took 20 days to film and has already won several international awards. Omotose wants to ensure that communities across Africa see the film.
‘We are working on an alternative distribution model to ensure that it’s taken to communities and to those who cannot afford paying for a cinema ticket.’
I also attended the premiere of another South African film, Sleeper’s Walker.
Directed by Barry Berk, the film is based on a novel by Alistair Morgan and is described as a ‘riveting psychological film noir’.
The film follows John, who lost his family in a car accident after falling asleep at the wheel. He takes refuge in a small town and encounters Roelf and his provocative 17-year-old daughter. John becomes entwined in a dangerous relationship with the young woman.
This film was filmed over a six-month period and was funded by private capital. ‘Making a film is tough and you are working against the clock,’ Berk said at the premiere.
Both these films highlight the challenge of telling our own stories, especially the need to be creative and to find people to support the storytelling process.
According to local industry players, a movie that costs R7 million to make might only take R1 million at the box office if it is lucky.
South African films do poorly in mainstream cinemas. Ensuring that locally-made films are screened and accessible to ordinary people requires intervention through alternative distribution channels, such as the one envisaged by Omotose for his film.
DIFF is another distribution platform that enables people to see a greater variety of stories than the staple Hollywood diet.
It is a refreshing festival with something for everyone.