What is happening at the Durban International Film Festival?

Still from "As I Open My Eyes"

As with our last movie night post, we need to start with the bad news.

1. The Durban International Film Festival (or DIFF), one of the most important film festivals on the African continent, has been through some turmoil lately. With only a couple months to go to DIFF, the festival manager Sarah Dawson as well as long time DIFF programmer Jack Chiang have resigned over alleged interference from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) who runs the festival. The dispute was around the decision to not screen ‘Shepherds and Butchers,’ a film about a white teenage apartheid executioner (starring the comic actor Steve Coogan as a lawyer defending the killer), as the opening night film. Here’s the trailer:


Shepherds and Butchers (2016)

In a post-resignation open letter, Dawson explained that the film, despite its artistic merits, was not well suited for an opening night film, and shows graphic depictions of violence on black bodies which mostly serves to drive the narrative of white protagonists:

The decision was in consideration of the idea that imposing the film upon a diverse audience, many of whom are compelled professionally to be present and who might be unprepared for images of violence upon black bodies within the context of a narrative elaboration of a white man’s trauma, had the potential to be overwhelmingly emotionally distressing.

Dawson’s decision to have a separate gala screening for the film was overruled by UKZN deputy Vice Chancellor Cheryl Potgieter, after ‘Shepherds and Butchers’ producer Anant Singh (his other credits range from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” starring Idris Elba to the films of local comic Leon Schuster) complained in an email to Dawson.

We back Dawson’s reasoning and for the independent curatorship of film festival programs. We’ll stay glued to what happens next.

2. On a more positive note, there are a few exciting African films to look forward to at DIFF this year. One of them being As I Open My Eyes, the feature debut from Tunisian filmmaker Leyla Bouzid. The film follows a young female rock musician who realizes that one of her friends and bandmates is working for the dictatorship. Set on the eve of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, the film subtly paints a portrait of the atmosphere of fear created by Ben Ali.

As I Open My Eyes (2015)

3. Another one we’re excited about at DIFF is Naked Reality, the latest from the prolific Cameroonian auteur Jean Pierre Bekolo (Les Saignettes, Le Complot d’Aristotle.) The film is described as an afro—futuristic cinematic fable, and centers around a mysterious character named Wanita, who is positioned as a savior in a dystopic world, where African cities have become one huge metropolis. There is no trailer yet, but you can follow the blog here.

4. Speaking of Afro-Futurists, There’s a new video out featuring Spoek Mathambo. Shot on the streets and in the internet cafes of downtown Johannesburg, and featuring some classic pantsula moves, the video is a fitting ode to South Africa’s urban jungle. Daniel Haaksman’s remix of a classic Soul Brothers mbaqanga track and Spoek’s playful flow create a synergy bound for success on dancefloors and music blogs alike. Well done to Capetonian director Chris Kets and The Visual Content Gang.

Akabongi” (2016)

5. Nigerian filmmaker and University of Southern California graduate Ose Oyamendan has created a new comedy web series called Oh! Bama which follows “America’s #1 right wing detective” as he travels to Kenya to find proof that Barack Obama was born on the continent, in an effort to impeach the US president before he finishes his term. The series has some funny moments, albeit a little old school stylistically, with a lot of dude humor and Kenyan women mostly presented as floozies or shady tricksters. It’s been getting a lot of love from Nigerian and Kenyan blogs however.

Oh! Bama (2016)

6. Fans of horror, take note. London-based Nigerian filmmaker Ogo Okpue has written and directed a new feature called Catface, about a “vigilante born through supernatural means that decides to take revenge on a cult of violent internet serial killers.” The teaser trailer is pretty creepy. We’d be interested to see more.

Catface (2016)

7.  Disney has teamed up with Lupita Nyong’o and Mira Nair (award winning director of Mississippi Masala and Monsoon Wedding) for a new film called Queen of Katwe, based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi, who went from selling corn as a young girl on the streets of Uganda to becoming an international chess champion. A colleague watched the trailer and sent this impression: “The trailer opens with an inspirational quote from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (why?), a misplaced Leona Lewis pop song (they couldn’t find Ugandan musicians?), and homilies, which I assume represents some kind of politics for the poor in Kampala, Uganda: ‘Use your minds and you’ll find safety,’ ‘Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place where you belong’ and ‘You belong where you believe you belong.’ It’s like Akeelah and the Bee in Kampala.” Too harsh? Watch for yourself:

8. Finally, if you haven’t yet, check out our Kickstarter campaign for our first feature documentary film, Africa’s Premiere League, a film about Africa’s obsession with English football. To those who have donated so far, thanks for getting us to our original goal! We have extended the target so keep sharing and get it out there!

Further Reading

A power crisis

Andre De Ruyter, the former CEO of Eskom, has presented himself as a simple hero trying to save South Africa’s struggling power utility against corrupt forces. But this racially charged narrative is ultimately self-serving.

Cinematic universality

Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.

Resistance is a continuous endeavor

For more than 75 years, Palestinians have organized for a liberated future. Today, as resistance against Israeli apartheid intensifies, unity and revolutionary optimism has become the main infrastructure of struggle.