The Vancouver South African Film Festival opens its sixth edition on Friday (April 8) with the Vancouver premiere of The Shore Break. Read our interview with director Ryley Grunenwald about her doc, which resonates at home in its depiction of the battle between indigenous people and mining interests set on ravaging South Africa’s Wild Coast.
But there’s more than that to the weekend festival, which also offers the odd thriller (Assignment) and thorny love story (Free State) among the more social-justice-oriented flicks (Difret). Here are a few of our selections. All screenings take place at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, SFU Woodward’s. For more information, go to www.vsaff.org/.
Dis Ek, Anna
Even with its three SAFTA awards—that’s the South African equivalent of the Oscars—including one for best film, this fraught courtroom drama divides audiences. Charlenè Brouwer is the adult Anna (played as a youth by Izel Bezuidenhout), who shows up after 14 years of estrangement to plant two bullets in her stepfather’s head. A sensitive lawyer and a weary cop are left to puzzle over Anna’s remorseless disposition and the thin-lipped silence of her mother (Nicola Hanekom).
Based on two popular novels, Dis Ek, Anna goes full bore into its theme of child sexual abuse, conjuring a truly grotesque villain (Morne Visser, admirably unvain) on its way to some morally questionable, if righteous, territory. Even then, Dis Ek, Anna provides an undeniably gripping two hours and a small milestone in Afrikaans-language cinema.
April 10 (7 p.m.)
For Love and Broken Bones
As Motheo, a trumpet-playing debt collector decked out in ’40s wise-guy duds, Mduduzi Mabaso is the best reason to catch this fetching township drama. High on style and bursting with colour, For Love and Broken Bones nonetheless works hard to make you hate Motheo, while Mabaso works just as hard but less obviously to redeem him.
The result was a SAFTA for best actor. Playing a wedding planner and her scrappy, fatherless son, Lerato Mvelase and young Mashala Letsoalo are almost as magnetic as their stony but soulful lead.
April 10 (1:30 p.m.)
Glory Game: The Joost van der Westhuizen Story
It’s clearly meant to raise both funds for and consciousness of ALS, but this doc is also an eye-opener for those (most of us, I’m guessing) who’ve never seen one of rugby’s greatest-ever players in full flight.
Looking like a stockier Sam Shepard with Paul Newman’s eyes, Van der Westhuizen was a true genius on the field and the right guy when postapartheid South Africa needed a national hero.
Glory Game doesn’t shy away from a painful fall from grace, and the irony of his motor neurone illness is cosmic, but these real-life narrative beats can’t overwhelm the athletic poetry Van der Westhuizen achieved in his incredible prime.
April 10 (3:30 p.m.)
RFK in the Land of Apartheid
Here's a splash of cold water as the US presidential primaries drag on and into newer and more alarming shades of post-reality.
Senator Robert Kennedy was a changed man when he touched down in Cape Town in 1966, as civil rights leader John Lewis forcefully declares in this short, effective doc.
Including an unprecedented visit to Soweto and his graceful takedown of hostile right wingers at Cape Town University, Kennedy's actions in South Africa galvanized its oppressed majority (the film opens with a parade of black men all named after the American politician.)
History has been oddly indifferent to the younger Kennedy, but here's a crystal clear record of the basic decency that informed his subsequent campaign and certainly led to his murder. Impossible as it seems, the bestiary that is contemporary American politics looks even more repugnant by contrast. April 9 (4 p.m.)