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Three Breakthroughs for the South African Film Industry


The 2010s saw African films make even more headlines at the world’s biggest festivals, from AFI to Berlin, Sundance to Toronto, earning Oscar and Golden Globe nominations along the way. Here are three global breakthroughs, now available to stream on Showmax.

Breakthrough animation: Revolting Rhymes (2016)

“I guess you think you know this story. You don’t. The real one’s much more gory.”

Roald Dahl’s classic collection of twisted fairy tales was brought to life in Cape Town by Triggerfish, who animated Revolting Rhymes for Magic Light Pictures alongside Magic Light’s Berlin office.

Like Dahl did, the animation has reimagined the familiar stories anew, structuring them around the friendship of the pistol-packing Red Riding Hood (BAFTA winner Rose Leslie from Game of Thrones and The Good Fight) and her resourceful best friend Snow White (Screen Actors Guild nominee Gemma Chan from Crazy Rich Asians and Captain Marvel). The Big Bad Wolf (Golden Globe nominee Dominic West from The Affair and The Wire), seven jockeys with gambling debts, and three property-developing pigs all feature, as does Cinderella’s fairy godmother, Jack and a beanstalk, and his nasty mother.

Directed by Jakob Schuh (Oscar-nominated for The Gruffalo) and Jan Lachauer (Oscar-nominated for Room on the Broom) and co-directed by Bin Han To, Revolting Rhymes was nominated for an Oscar and won some of the world’s biggest animation awards, including the International Emmy Kids Award for Animation; Best Animation at the BAFTA Children’s Awards; Best Animated Special at the Annie Awards; and Best One-Off Special at Kidscreen.

Special mentions:

:: Triggerfish also animated three adaptations of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler classics as BBC Christmas Specials with Magic Light. All similarly won multiple international awards, with Stick Man (2015) winning at Annecy and Kidscreen, The Highway Rat (2017) at Rose d’Or, and Zog (2018) at New York International Children’s Film Festival - and currently nominated for Annie, Kidscreen and International Emmy awards in 2020

:: Triggerfish’s movies Adventures in Zambezia (2012) and Khumba (2013) became the most successful South African film exports in 30 years, translated into 27 languages, licensed in over 150 countries, and generating over R1 billion

:: Munki and Trunk (2016), produced from Cape Town by Sunrise, became a YouTube phenomenon, racking up over two million subscribers

Breakthrough documentary: Whispering Truth To Power (2018)

With exclusive, behind-the-scenes access, Whispering Truth To Power charts the final year in office of South Africa’s public protector Thuli Madonsela as she attempts to seek justice for ordinary people.

After successfully challenging President Jacob Zuma for illegal use of state funds, Thuli now has to face the biggest challenge of her career: investigating – in the face of protests, death threats and legal challenges – the alleged systematic takeover of government by a private family in cahoots with the President.

Shameela Seedat’s directorial debut, Whispering Truth To Power won the Special Jury Prize at Hot Docs, North America’s most important documentary festival, for “its timely portrait of a bad-ass public servant who uses her office for good at a pivotal moment in South African politics.”

Special mentions:

:: Stroop: Journey into the Rhino Horn War (2018) won 26 awards, including Best of Festival at The International Wildlife Film Festival 2019, and was shortlisted for the Presenter and Impact awards at Jackson Wild 2019, arguably the Oscars of the wildlife film world

:: Pascale Lamche won the Directing Award at Sundance for Winnie (2017), a documentary on one of the most misunderstood contemporary female political figures, Winnie Madikizela Mandela

:: Liyana (2017), a genre-defying documentary about a storytelling workshop with South African Gcina Mhlope and five children in the Kingdom of Eswatini, won 35 international awards

:: Everything Must Fall (2019), Rehad Desai’s #feesmustfall documentary, won The Vaclav Havel Award at One World Human Rights Documentary Film Festival this year

Breakthrough film: Inxeba | The Wound (2017)

Directed by John Trengove, Inxeba tells the story of Xolani (Nakhane), a lonely factory worker, who joins the men of his community in the mountains of the Eastern Cape to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood. When a defiant initiate from the city discovers his best-kept secret, Xolani’s entire existence begins to unravel.

Inxeba is one of the most talked-about South African movies of the last decade. Local cinemas were forced to cancel screenings after death threats and protests about its depiction of the secret Xhosa initiation ritual, then the Film and Publications Board Tribunal reclassified it as pornography (it’s not) after complaints from traditionalists, essentially banning it from mainstream cinemas. The classification was later overturned in the North Gauteng High Court.

I-D Magazine called it “the most important LGBT film you will see in 2018… through the character of Xolani we are introduced to a world where homosexuality is still simply not an option.” The excessive protests against the film laid bare the rampant homophobia that remains in parts of South Africa.

In addition to a 90% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Inxeba was Oscar-shortlisted and won over 25 international awards, including the Sutherland Award for best first feature at the London Film Festival, the Grand Jury Award at LA Outfest, and Best Actor for Nakhane at Palm Springs.

Special mentions:

:: The feelgood Kenyan superhero film Supa Modo (2018) won over 50 international awards, including Best European Film For Children from the 2019 European Children's Film Association Awards and a Children's Jury Special Mention in the Generation 14Plus category at Berlin in 2018

:: Endgame, about the covert negotiations to end Apartheid, was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and an Emmy for Outstanding Made for Television Movie in 2010, among other honours

:: Kenyan film Kati Kati (2016) - described by The Playlist as “a condensed version of Lost” - won the Prize of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) for the Discovery program at Toronto International Film Festival

:: Kenyan crime movie Nairobi Half Life (2012) won the Breakthrough Audience Award at AFI Fest for director David Tosh Gitonga

:: Stories of Our Lives (2014), an anthology of five short films about the queer experience in Kenya, won a Teddy Award at Berlin International Film Festival in 2015

:: Mrs Mandela (2010) earned Sophie Okonedo a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress for her performance as Winnie Madikizela Mandela

:: Kanarie, Schalk Bezuidenhout's breakout movie, was named one of Indiewire’s 14 Best LGBTQ International Films of 2018 and has a 100% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes

 
Cinema vs Television: Scorsese, Lynch and Beyond


Martin Scorsese has been in the news lately. What seems to be set as a shoe-in this coming award season is his latest, The Irishman. Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci the epic crime drama has a stellar ensemble and who's who of gangster Hollywood. A strong genre film based on a book of the same name, which follows a mob hitman and his connection with labour union leader Jimmy Hoffer, the sprawling gangster picture clocks in at 3 1/2 hours.

While it probably had something to do with publicity in the weeks leading up to the release of The Irishman on Netflix, Scorsese was quite vocal about his feelings on the Marvel cinematic universe. Essentially dismissing the franchise's spectacle by likening it to a theme park ride, his remarks pressed buttons with fans of the box office blockbusters. While spectacular, imaginative and star-studded the CGI monoliths are very different from what a director like Martin Scorsese can bring to the party. One of Hollywood's's most respected filmmakers of all time, legendary Marvel producer Kevin Feige was almost resigned in his response to Scorsese's comments.

At 3.5 hours, The Irishman is one of his longest films yet and while compelling, it is a slog to endure the full duration in one sitting. The temptation to watch it in several parts is much stronger based on the fact that it has been released on Netflix, allowing more wiggle room when it comes to play and pause as opposed to conventional theatre. A meme doing the rounds giving audiences a handy four-part breakdown, and Netflix's insistence that the film only get a very limited theatrical release, has meant that many viewers would have watched it almost like a miniseries. Ironically, being a cinematic purist, Scorsese has now been tasked with maintaining that The Irishman is in fact a film and not a miniseries.

This irony and new streaming services have created a fascinating grey area. Roma, a film released on Netflix which did get a theatrical run was regarded as one of the year's best films receiving a number of awards during last year's award season. Rather niche, the black-and-white arthouse drama spent a year in the life of a maid in Mexico City. Far from mainstream, it was a surprising and even promising move from Netflix, something of a pioneer in the film industry. While raising many eyebrows, not just Robert De Niro's, The Irishman can almost be seen as a bit of a challenge and a disruptor in its wake.

Blurring the lines between what constitutes a cinematic feature film release as opposed to a straight-to-video TV movie, it's becoming increasingly difficult to make the distinction. Television is now in its golden age, in some cases matching cinema in every respect, almost forcing some re-evaluation. The boundaries have certainly shifted over the years and one great example of this is the return to Twin Peaks. The highly anticipated season three of Twin Peaks by writer-director David Lynch further muddied the waters. Releasing on Showtime, it has been argued that the TV series is in fact the best film of the last decade. With each episode winding up in a bar with a musical interlude, you could see how it would be easy to glue every episode together without the interludes to form one very long film.

David Lynch's Twin Peaks series was revolutionary at the time it first emerged, inspiring a number of other shows with similar elements and appetites. The filmmaker is or has been quite reluctant to delve too far into television, having only directed several of the original Twin Peaks episodes. His latest effort makes a great case study and example when it comes to trying to differentiate between television and film, having served as director from start to finish. Nowadays the crossovers are quite normal with many film actors becoming figureheads for long-running TV series. While there used to be a stigma attached to TV productions, the calibre and popularity of such shows is making it much easier and advantageous to associate.

Streaming services are giving viewers access to the latest and greatest from the comfort of their own home. While influential filmmakers like Martin Scorsese are being won over, one wonders what implications opting to release on the small screen could have in the long run. It's much more comfortable to watch from the comfort of your own home, yet with the wide spectrum of quality when it comes to home theatres, it may not be an optimal first point screening platform.

Moreover, taking these kind of screen gems away from theatres could further jeopardise the film industry from a financial point-of-view. While there is plenty of money to be made via streaming services at present, who are bending over backwards in order to create fast entertainment catalogues, one does wonder how long and sustainable this can be. While it's promising that many people are turning to streaming services instead of simply pirating content, it's difficult to comprehend how such small "family" subscription fees will be able to substitute for the cost of a movie ticket and be able to advance the industry. These radical changes are certainly turning things upside down, although as more streaming providers come to the party things are going to further complicate themselves.

 
Norval Foundation - An Art Museum and Cultural Centre


The Norval Foundation is an art museum and centre for cultural expression in Steenberg, Cape Town. Exhibiting a wide variety of art, their focus is on local and international visual art from the 20th and 21st century. Adjacent to the Table Mountain National Park and next door to the Steenberg Golf Club, the museum's architectural lines blend into nature with many great windows and spectacular views. Breaking free from structure, it spills into nature through the beautifully tranquil Sculpture Garden and outdoor amphitheatre.

 

Through versatile exhibition spaces and a dedicated research library, the centre seeks to expose guests to some of the greatest artists at home and abroad. Currently exhibiting the work of William Kentridge, the museum has an extensive tour of his Dada-inspired creations. Using found objects and a touch of surreal whimsy, the celebrated art and theatre legend has an unbridled passion for creating. Mechanical pieces with a musical affinity, stereoscopic art for added depth as well as massive sculptures adorn most of the ground level displays.

Kentridge has a playful yet poetic approach to his work with many recurring motifs. Taking on an interactive element, his pieces come alive through wonder and imagination. While an outright original, there are hints of David Lynch's fascination with movement and technology with a dab of Monty Python's experimental energy and humour.

Norval Foundation

Another highlight is the visual exhibition 'in Pursuit of Venus [infected]' by Lisa Reihana. The eclectic video against a painted backdrop restages historical events, both real and imagined, as the first contact between the British and Pacific people plays out. A wide projected image across an entire gallery, the New Zealand artist's piece plays out inviting viewers to immerse themselves in the ancient world. Authentic and even harrowing at times, the series of encounters create a sense of being there, interspersed and happening simultaneously with traveling audio. At 64 minutes, it's a surreal and haunting display that will resonate quite strongly with South Africa's history, echoing the story of Krotoa, which was recently adapted to film.

While the museum is laden with information, joining a tour will help you excavate the inside stories, adding another layer of context to the artwork. Upstairs a collection of artwork has been cleverly curated to sit alongside each other and serve as contrasts. Adding further nuance and counterbalancing each other to offer new dimensions, each piece is further enriched.

The Skotnes restaurant is now a favourite. Allowing plenty of natural light in through window walls, exhibiting nature in its glory and set against manicured gardens from the mind of Keith Kirsten, the exterior makes it a beautiful space. The interior's stylish furniture and decorative ceiling complement the museum's desire to create a space for art and people to co-exist. Serving up good coffee and sporting a versatile menu, it could be your new favourite meeting spot.

Norval Foundation Sculpture Garden

With musical performances and are ever-evolving art display, the Norval Foundation is a wonderous place with a fixed gaze on celebrating art and culture in our country. Whether you're visiting the museum, restaurant or staying over in the apartment, there's always a way for you to connect with what's happening at the Norval Foundation.

General admission tickets are R180 for adults and under 18s get in free. They have membership options and if you visit on first Thursdays, it's free for everyone. Open every day of the week from 10am - 6pm, except Tuesdays, there's really no excuse for you not to enjoy what the museum and centre has on offer. Even if you're not even in Cape Town you can get a sense of the place from their virtual tour.

 
Review: The Hilarious Mark Banks on Ice Comedy - 60 Years of Madness


Mark Banks on Ice is a one-man stand-up comedy show now playing at Pieter Toerien's Theatre on the Bay in Camps Bay, Cape Town. Legendary South African comedian, Mark Banks, has made a name for himself with his outrageous brand of comedy. While the poster and title are flamboyant and over-the-top, the show as you may have guessed is much more pared down with scenes of snowfall.

Banks has a very dry sense of humour, not afraid to poke fun at politicians, making him probably well-suited to leading a comedy roast. While the show is "on ice", there isn't really a theme holding everything together as Banks allows his repertoire to cover flights, sharks, school and a range of popular go-to stand up topics.

Wheezing at some of his own jokes, his facial expressions are quite priceless, able to say so much with the roll of his eyes or a grimace. Teasing out some of the local Cape Town news of the day and things you'll notice, he takes a few potshots with the click of his heels.

Comfortable on stage, freewheeling through his set and maintaining good patter with the audience, he managed to keep the laughs coming through regularly with some clever wordplay, repetition, stereotyping, accents and great inflection. While some bits of his show have been played before, there is enough fresh material to keep things upbeat and funny.

While his audience front row picks were unfortunately a little bit bland with Judy and a Calitzdorpian, he still managed to add some spice, admittedly returning to pick up some of the pieces later on in the act. Planning his standing ovation early into the show, after the 82 minute run time, he did get a semi-ovation which probably summed up the night. While Banks is sharp-witted, he managed to operate without profanity, refraining from going there possibly playing into the show poster's satirical Disney edge. This didn't stop him from being lewd and lascivious from time to time, but it probably wouldn't be a Mark Banks show without some depravity.

Being one of the best BS artists in the game, his outlandish tall stories constantly verged on the point of becoming hysterical with some tipping over. Picking on soft targets such as the disabled, aged and homeless, his bold brand of comedy was adventurous and he managed to be risqué, flirting with shock value as if he was fishing for gasps. All in all, it was a great night out with Banks injecting energy and sizzle the whole way through.

 
Zog Nominated for an International Emmy


South Africa is having a good year at the International Emmys: first The River was nominated as best Telenovela and now Zog, animated in Cape Town by Triggerfish for the UK’s Magic Light Pictures, is up for Best Kids’ Animation. The short film is based on Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s award-winning and beloved 2010 picture book, which sold over 1.5 million copies. You may remember this interview with co-director Daniel Snaddon.

Zog is the keenest but clumsiest pupil in his class at Dragon School, where he longs to win a gold star as he learns how to fly, roar and breathe fire. He keeps meeting a kindly young girl who patches up his bumps and bruises, but can she help him with his trickiest school assignment yet: capturing a princess?

Co-directed by two-time Oscar nominee Max Lang (The Gruffalo and Room On The Broom) and multi-award-winning South African Daniel Snaddon (Stick Man), Zog is competing against Grizzy and the Lemmings (France), Jorel's Brother (Brazil), and Lamput (India).

“We’re delighted,” says Stuart Forrest, CEO of Triggerfish. “Congratulations to Magic Light, Max, Daniel and everyone who helped bring Zog to life. We hope this latest nomination encourages more South Africans to try out animation, using our free digital learning platform and upcoming 10-second animation competition.”

Zog is the fourth in a string of BBC Christmas adaptations animated by Triggerfish for Magic Light, following the multi-award-winning Donaldson-Scheffler adaptations Stick Man and The Highway Rat as well as the Oscar-nominated Roald Dahl adaptation Revolting Rhymes, which also won the International Emmy in 2018.

Before teaming up with Triggerfish, Magic Light also made three previous Donaldson-Scheffler adaptations: the Oscar-nominated The Gruffalo and Room On The Broom and Annecy winner The Gruffalo’s Child. All seven family classics are now streaming on Showmax.

 
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