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Movie Review: Democrats


Democrats is a 2014 Danish documentary about the contentious 2008 election in Zimbabwe and the subsequent coalition's attempts to redraft the country's constitution. The film, directed by Camilla Nielsson, has been subsequently banned in Zimbabwe. In an interview with eNCA, Douglas Mwonzora, a lawyer and representative of the MDC-T said that the depiction of violence at various political meetings forced the censorship boards to ban this honest account of what happened behind-the-scenes. Filmed over three years, Nielsson gains seemingly unlimited access to COPAC campaigning and negotiations.

While this account is informative, eye-opening and even disturbing in the way misinformation and political tampering can impede constitutional progress, it's essentially the story of an unlikely friendship. ZANU-PF representative, Paul Mangwana, former Minister of Information and MDC–T representative, Douglas Mwonzora, are instructed to carry out the coalition government's mandate to draft a new constitution based on feedback from the people. So begins an arduous process of hosting thousands of rural and urban gatherings across the country to give the people an opportunity to speak.

Their task is to gather information and seed it into the drafting of a new constitution for Zimbabwe. However, the process is delayed through political interference, intimidation, violence and transporting additional party representatives into meeting areas. Intended to be peaceful, things break down and an inspirational governmental mission is hampered by false arrests, misinformation, instability and media involvement.

Democrats

"This revolution will be fought with pens and words..."

Through this journey, Mangwana and Mwonzora are at first pitted against each other, storming to get the best foothold for their political parties. Worthy adversaries, they maintain a healthy respect for one another, deliberating on a shared vision for a free and fair Zimbabwe. This common goal means different things for each of them, as one man tries to preserve the old order and the other tactfully negotiates his way to a more inclusive Zimbabwe. There's something to be said for the nation's sense of humour, for as serious as matters get, there's always room for a disarming laugh or smile.

Mangwana is a charming man and you could imagine Forest Whitaker taking on his role of devil's advocate, moving from self-assured smiles to the grave seriousness of a most wanted man. Mwonzora is a quietly confident man, who instead of resting on his party's legacy, is forced to use his lawyering skills in order to navigate a clear path. Their interactions range from affable to heated as they argue on various issues, from political meddling to contentious clauses.

Nielsson cleverly pivots the film on this relationship which demonstrates that while their political ideologies may differ, they are still able to get along. You wonder what kind of influence the documentation of their roles may have had on the outcome, since most people behave differently on camera. However, over such a long period of time, the filmmakers must have become like a fly-on-the-wall.

This is reinforced by footage capturing meeting violence and the honest expressions on the faces of these men. Being Danish, probably also aided them in representing a much more "independent" standpoint. Although, the translators are each listed as Anonymous in the credits, demonstrating just how unsettled the situation remains. While at face value, seemingly balanced, Mugabe and organised ZANU-PF machinations serve as a constant threat to completing the task of writing a new constitution.

Being a South African, the idea of drafting an inclusive and respected constitution echoes the sentiment of the New South Africa, which made this film more personal beyond sharing a border. The notion that two "enemies" can forge ahead and usher new life into a politically war-ravaged country is moving. Having journeyed with them through their many trials and transitions in Democrats, the thought that a suspended peace and justice can be achieved in a situation as volatile as Zimbabwe, is inspirational... even if for a brief moment in time.

The bottom line: Embroiled


 
Spling's Galileo Pick of the Week: Amelie


Spling's Pick of the Week - Amelie at Kirstenbosch

AMELIE @ KIRSTENBOSCH (7 Dec)

Amélie is a quaint, quirky and luminous French art house romance drama that is cherished by almost everyone that sees it. Delicately counterbalancing sentimental and whimsical, this film is the reason people take their garden gnomes and keepsakes on holiday. Audrey Tatou's magical and unforgettable performance has made her Amélie in everyone's hearts and minds. The trinket box tone and intimate cinematography keep us up close and personal with a charming, spirited and offbeat character, who never ceases to amuse and amaze us.

Many would say "it's so French" and they wouldn't be wrong! Encapsulating Paris from chimney tops to fresh produce stands makes it a quintessential French film. While cute, it navigates between roses and thorns to deliver a naive and uplifting romance story that will reignite the child-like innocence inside of everyone, making us want to believe in magic and perform random acts of kindness more readily.

This French art house classic is showing under the stars at The Galileo Open Air Cinema.

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Top 5 - AFDA Graduate Film Festival 2016 (CT)


Here are Spling's Top 5 short films from the 2016 AFDA Graduation Film Festival held in Cape Town at the Labia Theatre... to watch these student short films online, click on the link below each review to be redirected to their official page on AFDA's website and then click on the 'View Production' button towards the bottom right.

CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

Christmas Spirit is a dark comedy about an abrasive family, who are anticipating a visit from their Christmassy yet much-hated "Grandpa". This madcap short film has a similar tone to the BBC sitcom, My Family, yet takes the Christmas motif to new depths of dysfunction as the festive decorations become a symbol for their disdain for "Grandpa".

The filmmakers have cleverly balanced horror and comedy that recalls the work of Sam Raimi and Edgar Wright through their knack for irreverence and surprise. While ambitious, they manage to deck this Christmas tree with some sparkling comedy and over-the-top horror. Smart writing, great timing, relatable themes, convincing special effects and sharp comedy performances make this despicable laugh fest truly special as "Christmas Spirit" takes on a whole new meaning.

Watch Christmas Spirit Online


THE FALL

The Fall is a gripping psychological thriller about an award-winning photojournalist who suffers a nervous breakdown. By means of aerial photography and CBD backdrops, Cape Town becomes a character in this elegant and epic film, which broaches social alienation, the grey area of photojournalistic integrity and its repercussions as addressed in The Bang Bang Club.

Two excellent co-leads drive the intensity of this dizzying drama, which seems to have taken inspiration from films like Fight Club. The hard-hitting soundtrack, unorthodox cinematography and surreal flashbacks whip up a frenzy of emotion, which spirals upward to the big lump-in-the-throat reveal. Sleek visuals, seamless special effects, pangs of turmoil and a complete story, this short film could easily be extrapolated into a feature film.

Watch The Fall Online


DARLING, YOU'RE MINE

Darling, You're Mine is a powerful period piece drama that goes behind-the-scenes to reveal the dark underside of Hollywood. The industry has a shady history of discrimination, encapsulated in biographies like Trumbo, where social injustices become the norm. Elegantly shot and sensitively scripted, this harrowing drama shows the disgusting abuse of power and inherent gender inequality of the system as experienced by a young starlet trying to forge her film career.

Solid performances, authentic sets, wardrobe, make up and impressive production values make it seem like an excerpt from a much broader work. A real-life human nature horror, this immersive drama ends on a poignant note with a statistic that makes this '50s short film haunting and powerful. The ambiguous title, Darling, You're Mine plays into the sweet etiquette of the era and leaves you with a bitter afterthought that brings you back to the here and now.

Watch Darling, You're Mine Online


NUMB

Numb is an intimate drama and portrait of a long time couple whose relationship is put to the test when one of them is relegated to a wheelchair and crippled even further by his feelings of inadequacy. We journey with Griffin, a gregarious, go-getting downhill biker with a big future as he is quickly reduced to an uncertain, self-doubting and pitiful husk of a man.

While the cinematography is beautifully composed and silky, Numb will be best remembered for two thoughtful, nuanced and sensitive performances. It's a heartbreaking and all-too-real drama that provokes thought and evokes emotion, making every second count in completing a convincing character transition. Mature writing underpins this honest and restrained short film about a man dealing with post traumatic stress disorder.

Watch Numb Online


BLUE MIDNIGHT

It's no secret, Blue Midnight has been inspired by Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive. A commanding lead performance makes this a compelling watch. While sparsely scripted, stylised shots keep it moody and visually-stimulating, reinforced by the oppressive air created by the soundtrack. The familiarity carries over into other films like Crash and Taken as elements involving father and daughter coincide.

Diners, bars, gas stations... it exists in a universal Edward Hopper dimension, where the bakkie is the only real thing that anchors it in South Africa. The naming convention parallel with Blue Velvet is no accident. This film imbues a sleek, surreal and seething tone with sound design that seems on the cusp of tripping into Lynchland. While heavily influenced by other filmmakers, it plays into its enticing title, making you wish there was more...

Watch Blue Midnight Online

While they didn't quite make the Top 5, these short films deserve a special mention: the classy social issue drama Full Service, the Hollywood horror Alice, the maniacal What Goes Bump in the Night, the ethereal Crisis at the Summit and visually compelling character portrait, Tom.

 
Talking Movies with Spling - Moana, Maggie's Plan and Last Days in the Desert


Spling reviews Moana, Maggie's Plan and Last Days in the Desert as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

 
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