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SAFTA Film Nominees 2020 - 14th Edition

The fourteenth edition of the SAFTAs, South Africa's local TV and Film awards ceremony, is coming soon. While SPL!NG has had reservations about the ceremony, referring to it as McSAFTAs under its awkward partnership with McCafe, it seems to have adopted a more subtle approach under its partnership with Grolsch. The nomination annoucement images don't have any branding, making it seem as though they're focusing on the celebration and talent.

While this is a positive development for both the TV and film industry, as well as the integrity of the awards, there's still much work to be done. The South African Film and Television Awards is essentially our Oscars, Golden Globes and Emmys rolled into one. While it's a privilege to even have an awards ceremony honouring the best talent in our country, now in its 14th year, we still need to dot the i's and cross the t's. As TV with Thinus, pointed out -releasing the nominees to media in PDF format is restrictive in terms of accessibility of information for distribution. While some PDF software can remedy this hurdle, you'd expect the Golden Horns to make it easy to publicise and at least get their nominee's names right. Spelling errors, incorrect names, not presenting their names as billed in the film credits or IMDB, it's a little careless and doesn't reflect well on those who have been identified as worthy of a Golden Horn.

South African Film and Television Awards - SAFTAs

While it's great to see so many female-led films about strong South African women dominating the film nominations, there are some curious judging decisions. The strangest is quite simply that this year's official Oscar contender, the feature film selected to represent South Africa for the coveted Best International Feature Film, didn't make the Best Picture selection of the local awards show. One has to imagine that the film's contentious subject matter, criticised by some as a callous display of toxic masculinity, may have something to do with it. Over the last year, there's been a drive to give voice to the victims of sexual violence, rallying against the abuse of women and children. Within this context, there would probably be some outrage over a film like Knuckle City winning Best Picture.

Some of these women happened to be boxers, who became victims of such abuse at the hands of men. Perhaps the selectors decided that nominating Knuckle City for Best Picture would be in bad taste based on current trends. The film has earned nominations in virtually every category, making this snub both contentious and political, especially in light of its selection as our Oscar hopeful.

Another film, which should have garnered a Best Picture nomination is Christiaan Olwagen's stage play adaptation of Die Seemeeu. A stellar and unconventional drama using free-flowing cinematography and touching on some deeper strains of drama, it's uncharted territory for South African film. Moreover, having Olwagen's Poppie Nongena in the running may have made a double nomination seem conspicuous. Both Knuckle City and Die Seemeeu are pushing the boundaries of local film-making, crafting bold and relentless dramas that are ahead of their time, too big or niche for our local awards show to truly appreciate.

Here's a list of the film nominees at this year's event.

Best Achievement in Directing - Feature Film

Fiela se Kind - Brett Michael Innes
Knuckle City - Jahmil X.T. Qubeka
Poppie Nongena - Christiaan Olwagen

Best Achievement in Scriptwriting

Fiela se Kind - Brett Michael Innes
Knuckle City - Jahmil X.T. Qubeka
Poppie Nongena - Christiaan Olwagen and Saartjie Botha

Best Actress - Feature Film

Sandra Prinsloo, Die Seemeeu
Zenobia Kloppers, Fiela se Kind
Clementine Mosimane, Poppie Nongena

Best Actor – Feature Film

Albert Pretorius, Die Seemeeu
Stian Bam, Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer
Bongile Mantsai, Knuckle City

Best Supporting Actress - Feature Film

Cintaine Schutte, Die Seemeeu
Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Poppie Nongena
Elize Dunster, Skemerson (Sun, Cry, Moon)

Best Supporting Actor - Feature Film

Wayne van Rooyen, Fiela se Kind
Patrick Ndlovu, Knuckle City
Thembekile Komani, Knuckle City

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Skemerson (Sun, Cry, Moon), William Collinson
Poppie Nongena, Victoria Turpin
Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer, Willie Nel
Fiela se Kind, Tom Marais
Knuckle City, Willie Nel

Best Achievement in Editing

Back of the Moon, Sibongeleni Mabuyakhulu & Megan Gill
Fiela se Kind, Cornelius Abraham van Aswegen
Cut-Out Girls, Brett Rayner
Knuckle City, Layla Swart
Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer, Warrick Allan

Best Achievement in Production Design

Knuckle City, TK Khampepe & Justice Nhlapo
Fiela se Kind, Chantel Carter
Back of the Moon, Dylan Lloyd
Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer, Chantel Carter

Best Achievement in Make Up and Hairstyling

An Act of Defiance, Julia Rubinstein
Zulu Wedding, Bongi Mlotshwa
Poppie Nongena, Gale Shepherd
Fiela se Kind, Maritsa Maritz
Knuckle City, Carol Babalwa Mtshiselwa

Best Achievement in Directing – Documentary Feature

Buddha in Africa - Nicole Schafer
Dying for Gold - Catherine Meyburgh and Richard Pakleppa
The Fun's Not Over - The James Phillips Story - Michael Cross

Best Documentary Feature

Buddha in Africa - Thinking Strings Media
Dying for Gold - Breathe Films
Sound of Masks - Lionfish Productions
The Fun's Not Over - The James Phillips Story - Rogue Productions

Best Short Film

Die Begrafnis
Joko Ya Hao
The Letter Reader

Bong Joon-ho's Greatest Award Season Hits

Bong Joon-ho has been making headlines and waves this awards season thanks to his brilliant dark comedy Parasite. A well-balanced comedy turned thriller, the film has been praised for its tonal dexterity with a strong ensemble, rich themes and many twists-and-turns. A rollicking comedy thrill ride, it's entertaining and artistic showing masterful control as the 50-year-old South Korean director makes some incisive political commentary. The film won the coveted Palm d'Or before marching into award season. A firm favourite at this year's Oscars, having ratcheted up a number of awards (the most out of any film) this awards season, the film is set for re-release in South Africa. Having amassed four Oscars for best picture, best director, best screenplay and best international film, the  film-maker now shares the record for the most Oscars in a single night with Walt Disney's impressive run in 1953.

Local Awards Ceremony

An amazing cinematic feat, Parasite has been making history and breaking records, most notably those surrounding an international film in what Bong Joon-ho has described as a local film awards contest. These quips helped contextualise the mountain Parasite had to summit and gave him and his film a free pass no matter what the outcome. His comments and publicity surrounding the film have had plenty of traction this award season and have enabled him to reach a much greater audience. Bong Joon-ho's movies include Memories of a Murder, The HostSnowpiercer and Okja. He's no stranger to "Hollywoodland" and his insights have resonated with filmmakers and decision-makers in Tinseltown.

Parasite TV Series

Parasite has already been green lit to be turned into a limited run HBO TV series to be produced by Joon-ho and Adam McKay. While in early development stages, the director says it will explore some of the stories that happen inbetween sequences of the film. The influential film will undoubtedly sway contemporary and budding filmmakers, who will be attempting to produce something similar. Focused on two locales, contrasting the slums with a mansion, Joon-ho has got a lot of mileage out of his resources and locations. Inspired by Hitchcock, having watched Psycho more than 50 times... you can definitely see a strain of the master of suspense's influence in his thriller. A fan of Mindhunter, Joon-ho would love to direct an episode of Fincher's series. Check out the candid interview below for more tidbits.

Acting Award Representation

One criticism leveled at the awards season this year, besides calls for more diversity, has been the exclusion of the Parasite cast. While filmed in Korean with subtitles, there hasn't been much of an attempt to ingratiate the award-winning film's cast members. As part of many Hollywood film campaigns, the tendency is to promote big name stars ahead of awards season and considering that the cast of Parasite is relatively unknown on an international level, it seems unfair that they received little to no attention. The Oscars have had their fair share of controversy surrounding the selection process as well as the level of diversity.

The BAFTAs was also heavily criticised this year for their selection, ignoring some and not paying others dues, in some instances serving up a surprising double nomination. One would imagine that nomination forms simply have a name and film title, making it difficult to connect the dots in some instances. While there is obviously Google to fall back on, perhaps it would be more of a fail-safe for these ballots to include a small profile image of each actor in order for voters to have a better visual clue as to exactly who they are better voting for.

Unassuming Genius

Bong Joon-ho has charmed the media, getting coverage from insightful comments to apologising to engravers for having so many Oscars. This refreshing spirit has been a welcome change-up from what has become quite a stale, vanilla and predictable awards ceremony and event. There have obviously been some surprises along the way but this year's event went to plan. They obviously have to be losers and it's seems a pity that The Irishman didn't manage to garner one Oscar from its 10 nominations. Acknowledging his competitors as part of his acceptance speech he playfully quipped that he wish he had a Texas chainsaw to cut the award into 5 equal parts.

Inclusive World Cinema

Another interesting comment from Bong Joon-ho was that of the wall created by subtitles, which is seemingly insurmountable to mainstream audiences. Coming from South Africa, a country of 11 official languages, there is a variety of multi-lingual films that play, which require subtitles. While they would be considered foreign language (or international now) at an event like the Oscars, it's a bit more normalised. As a South African film critic, Spling doesn't have a separate rating system for local films as opposed to those on an international platform.

All of them should be adjudicated according to the same standards and if there was any room for a different rating scale, it would be to differentiate between student and professional film-making. There is a stigma attached to the idea of having to read films. While it does take some getting used to and requires you to simultaneously watch and read, it's not nearly as challenging as most people people make it out to be. By embracing this film element, one is made open to a host of films from other countries with distinct cultures and languages suddenly splayed open for mass consumption.

Encourage a Culture of Acceptance

It seems quite ludicrous that films need to be remade in English in order to reach a wider audience, as was the case with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. While the Swedish original is quite brilliant, it seems rather redundant that there was an effort to adapt the series for American audiences. While David Fincher brought something interesting and stylistic to the table, it just seemed quite superfluous and unnecessary, which is probably why it didn't go any further. The idea of subtitles does seem like a "wall" as Bong Joon-ho suggested, but that wall is minuscule in the greater scheme of things and audiences should make more of an effort to embrace diversity and exercise more tolerance in their film-watching appetites.

The industry is essentially a business driven by profits, which is why it makes sense that by supporting films with greater diversity, they will naturally be more films of this nature and thus more nominations and talent ready to breakthrough.

Have Hollywood Movies got too Gimmicky?

George Lucas decided to wait until a time when visual effects technology had become good enough for him to release his first three Star Wars films. John Boorman decided to direct Arthurian legend, Excalibur, rather than Lord of the Rings because he realised that the scope of the project would have been much too ambitious in order to realise many of the magical places and fantasy characters. Both directors were wise to avoid going out of their comfort zones, creating some iconic films as a result. Star Wars was already at the cutting edge in terms of visual effects, many of which still hold up by today's rigorous standards.

While make-up, animatronics and video effects of the day had their place, we've seen a marked improvement in visual effects, which have adapted with the rise of digital and 3D over the last three decades. While it appears that animals are still a bit tricky to pull off when you consider films like Dolittle and Mowgli, looking at Ang Lee's tiger in Life of Pi, it seems to be more a case of just how much budget a film is willing to dedicate to each of its visual effects elements. These days, with spectacular superhero and fantasy escapism bombarding the box office at regular intervals the need for visual effects has skyrocketed and while some budgets have grown with this, it's still a case of filmmakers trying to get as much bang for their buck as possible.

Hiring numerous visual effects companies to unpack a slate of scenes and visual elements, it has now become a bidding war in an effort to keep costs down. With some of these films taking up visual effects in almost every frame it's getting to the point where simple green screen technology is beginning to consume the actors themselves. Boasting all-star casts and posting massive returns, the DC and Marvel Studios can't seem to make films and TV series quick enough to keep up with the demand. While Disney seems to be pulling all the strings, having bought Lucasfilm and Marvel for an extraordinary amount, they do seem to be reaching a saturation point in terms of just how many Star Wars sequels and spin-offs can exist concurrently. Their Disney+ offering, however, with the advent of Marvel's phase four seems to be just getting started!

Hollywood Movies Too Gimmicky

Comic books were born in times when life was tough allowing readers to escape from their seemingly powerless situations into a realm of make-believe where superhuman abilities made immersing oneself both empowering and exhilarating. With the seemingly precarious political situation across the world and a latent recession undermining economies and job markets, it does seem like people would want to escape rather than confront their hard realities in the form of documentaries and dramas.

While Roland Emmerich (Midway) and studios like Marvel are leading the charge when it comes to these feasts for the eyes, it's getting to a point where visual effects have proliferated storytelling so much that it almost comes across as animated with superimposed actors. This unreal quality can derail film, taking it from the grit of suspenseful reality to a fabricated world of unreal. While the visual effects elements are possibly going too far, building sprawling worlds yet dampening the overall illusion in terms of quality, other films are trying to find the right balance.

Following Birdman comes 1917, an experiential war adventure drama about two soldiers who are handed an impossible mission to go beyond enemy lines in a bid to rescue 1,600 men. Birdman simulated a continuous one-shot, cleverly editing it in such a way that it seemed as that was done in one take. Revolutionary, it has inspired other filmmakers to try and match this film-making feat. The most recent technical masterpiece is 1917, which tracks with its co-leads across the pastures and dilapidated buildings of France.

Artfully composed, undulating and epic, it's an amazing achievement for world-renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins. While the meticulous planning and perfect execution of essentially many continuous shots are stitched together, it does give you a vicarious bystander experience of sorts. This roving single perspective camera movement is much like third-person video games with the exception that it's continually looking for the best angle and frame in order to sustain its artistic temperament and visual standards.

While the world of gaming and film are gradually converging, the stylistic choice does refocus what's important in a film, once again taking away from human element. There's nothing wrong with aiming to do something like this but there are certain risks involved. One thing that's becoming self-evident is that you are buffering the human connection, the emotional undercurrent and the audience identification with the characters. By giving precedence to the visual effects or cinematography something is lost in translation, taking away from the actual art of performance. The same is true for resurrected digital characters who appear real but are synthetic recreations.

While Hitchcock infamously described his acting talent as cattle, films would be dead or at least alienating without a human presence or similar contact points in order to help immerse and persuade an audience into sinking into that world. While technical gimmicks are dazzling, impressive and carefully calibrated, keeping the vulnerable, flawed kernel of human nature seems to be essential in conveying rich and universal themes to speak to film audiences.

Film is difficult, requiring so much planning and forethought extending to budget allocation and human resources. It just seems that striking the right balance is a way that films will be able to retain their spectacular visual dimension without losing touch with characters. While world-building is important, it's much more critical that character and story be revered and all of its talent respected. You can hold an audience's attention without all the gimmicks, it's the story and characters that matter the most.

Oscar Buzz... Talk Around Tinseltown

This year's awards season has been quite fascinating and contentious. From complete snubs and surprise twists to contentious issues, it's been far from boring. The film Parasite has dominated headlines as the front runner, garnering plenty of nominations the and generating plenty of speculation around the notion of a foreign film in an American awards competition. While 1917 looms large as a technical masterpiece, Parasite is just much more well-rounded and the Oscars tend to favour performances if you ignore Titanic. Boon Jong Ho has been in high spirits, commenting on how subtitle films should be given more recognition from broader audiences and deflecting some of the Oscar pressure by acknowledging the locality of the Academy Awards and other similar film competitions.

The Voting Process

It's been a massive shakeup with many pointed opinions on what seems fair. While the Parasite ensemble are quite brilliant, they were largely ignored in the acting awards nomination process. While bringing their relative anonymity under the spotlight and how that impacts behind-the-scenes voting processes, it's also been a time of reflection and criticism of voting procedures where people have also been wondering if all voting members have even seen all the films in competition. Obviously this poses serious credibility issues for the Academy, whose specific process should be fair or at least carry the illusion of integrity.

Criticised but Still Tops

The Oscars have taken on quite a bit of heat over the years from being deemed too white and racist to becoming irrelevant in the modern era. Struggling to find a host with a squeaky clean record, almost as if they were swearing in a president, the red carpet event has been forced to play catch up. While these kinds of competitions are often political and slanted at the best of times, we are living in an age where there's no hiding from the truth any more. The entire "for your consideration" campaigning process already leaves a strange taste in the mouth, which is compounded by some of the more obscure decisions that face heavy criticism come awards season.

Love it or hate it, the Oscars is still an institution, one by which most actors live and breathe. Having one of those golden statuettes accredits you as an actor for life, serves as an everlasting calling card and is a major validation for anyone in the industry who's seeking to reach the pinnacle of success. Still revered, respected by peers and regarded as the crème de la crème of film award ceremonies worldwide, this probably explains why small matters become contentious and snowball into major debate points.

Supporting Acts

One discussion that clearly needs to be had is the idea of the supporting actor and what constitutes a supporting act. This year, while Brad Pitt was essentially a co-lead in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he is scooping up all the best supporting actor awards. As an actor, having enough screen time to do your character justice is a major advantage. Smaller character actors have got a limited amount of time to convey the particular nuances of the character and this is much easier to do when you aren't confined to a few minutes. While Alan Alda delivered a performance worthy of some award recognition in Marriage Story, his time on screen is far less than Brad Pitt or Anthony Hopkins had to work with.

In fact, what's quite humorous is that Hopkins won Best Actor for The Silence of the Lambs when he collectively was on screen for less than the time he was in his role as Pope Benedict in The Two Popes. The opposite is true for Margot Robbie who was nominated for her performance in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Obviously during the campaign process films decide who their nominees are based on which stars have the best prospect of being nominated. While Margaret Qualley actually had a better turn, it's Robbie's star presence and overall ability that was given precedence. This led to the strange double nominee situation at the BAFTAs.

Robbie had a strong year as a supporting actor, so it would have made much more sense for her to get a dual nomination rather than a double nomination. Pushing out some of the other possible nominees, who were probably more deserving, it just comes across as unfair on the smaller fish. The Oscars do need to redress their entire system and while we may never get to a point where everyone is happy, one does feel that as the highly esteemed film award continues to serve as the standard, there is a greater pressure for them to go back to the drawing board and find a better way of adjudicating and acknowledging real film talent.

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