In its 34th edition that took place July 18th to 28th, the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) evolved to become South Africa's premier film industry event which sees a host of local, continental and international filmmakers and film-lovers. The festival is hosted by the Centre for Creative Arts, University of KwaZulu-Natal, with principal funding by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund. Over the years, the festival has grown in global stature to being one of the most important global festivals for viewing African and South African films, as well as offering the audience a selection of the most recent international films. Eleven venues around Durban have hosted more than 180 films in addition to comprehensive workshop, courtesy of the Talent Campus, that is organized in association with that of the Berlinale for the sixth year.
DIFF's opening night offered great surprise. The South African film Of Good Report was banned at the last minute of being screened as the Film and Publication Board (FPB), which is the equivalent of MPAA in the States, denied classification of the film. In the statement read by the organizers, the screening of the film had to be halted as it claims that the film contain child pornography. The story of movie is known to be of a teacher who falls in love with one of his underage students who becomes pregnant with his child. Many South African filmmakers including some who have seen a rough cut of the film, stated that it contains a realistic dramatization of violence experienced by many SA women. However, during the closing night, the Film and Publications Board reversed their decision and gave the film a rating of 16. DIFF acknowledged the film's achievements in stimulating worldwide debate and highlighting important issues in South African society. Festival manager Peter Machen therefore announced a new annual award for Artistic Bravery, the first of which was given to Of Good Report director, Jahmil XT Qubeka. Of Good Report was eventually screened on the following day. It will be also screened in the upcoming edition of Toronto Festival.
The international Jury, which comprised of the writer of these lines, in addition to renowned festival programmer Paolo Bertolin, South African filmmaker Sarah Blecher, film curator June Givanni and South African actress Hlubi Mboya, awarded Best Feature Film Award to the Japanese film The Land of Hope, for its masterfully and humbly draws together an array of cinematic means of expression to engage us in a story. Best Feature Debut Award went to Wadjda by Saudi-Arabian Haifaa Al-Mansour for showcasing hidden realties about her society and the current status of its women. Other awards included Best Directorto Xavier Dolan for Laurence Anyways, Best Cinematograph to Matìas Penachino for Halley, Best Screenplay to Asghar Fahradi for The Past, Best Actor to David and Eitan Cunio in Youth, Best Actress to both Paulina Garcia in Gloria and Suzanne Clément in Laurence Anyways
During its ten days, DIFF also screened the new dramatic thriller African Gothic, which is set on a desolate rural farm in South Africa and follows the lives of two lovers who have allowed their farm to fall to ruin by rejecting reality and creating an eerie fantasy world. The film is based on Diepe Grond, the critically-acclaimed Afrikaans-language play by South African playwright Reza de Wet, who died early last year. De Wet was one of South Africa's most celebrated authors, a winner of theatre and literary awards than any other playwright. When the government censors were clamping down on news, television and film, Reza led a hand-full of playwrights into a thriving artistic movement called "Theatre of the Struggle".
Halley was also a haunting Mexican drama from first-time writer/director Sebastian Hofmann. The film tells the story of a security guard named Beto (Alberto Trujillo) working in a Mexico City gym, who withdraws into isolation as his body is slowly consumed by a mysterious sickness. Every day Beto is surrounded by vibrant, healthy bodies while his own body is slowly rotting away - despite his attempts to inject himself with embalming fluid.
Winner of the Silver Bear for Best Script at Berlin this year, Closed Curtain is latest film by banned Iranian director Jafar Panahi. It was shot secretly at Panahi's own beachfront villa on the Caspian Sea. One night during a thunderstorm Melika and her brother Reza break into the villa occupied by a writer-in-hiding. The writer demands that they leave, but Reza states that his sister is suicidal and then leaves her there.
One of first films to be set in Lesotho, The Forgotten Kingdom tells the story of a young man named Atang who reluctantly leaves the hustle of Johannesburg to embark on a journey to his ancestral land to bury his estranged father in the remote, mountainous village where he was born. Stirred by memories of his youth, Atang falls in love with his childhood friend, Dineo, now a radiant young school teacher. The film was directed by the New Yorker Andrew Mudge who spent almost ten years in researching the story and the South African heritage.
Set in Upstate New York, Francine tells the story of a woman whose alienation from society finds expression in her deep love for animals, particularly the ever-increasing number of cats with whom she shares her disheveled apartment. But instead Francine grows increasingly isolated from the community and begins seeking intimacy in the most unlikely of places. Written and directed by New York couple Melanie Shatzky and Brian M.Cassidy, Francine is highlighted by the performance of Melissa Leo as the title character.