If you’re not treating yourself to the full, weekend-long pass, here are three highlights you don’t want to miss at this year’s Vancouver South African Film Festival.
Johannesburg’s sprawling criminal underclass lies in wait for four naive rural visitors in this gripping feature from actor turned director Akin Omotoso. Zanele wants to deliver nine-year-old Zodwa to her mom, a “famous singer”; Nhlanhla believes there’s a job waiting for him in the big city with his cousin; Nkulu has been sent to retrieve his father’s body after a mining accident.
If the entwined plotting of these stories feels a little contrived, the film’s humid energy and queasy sense of peril more than compensate, and every performance is fantastic—particularly Mncedisi Shabangu as Madoda. The seediest of kingpins, his character couldn’t be more dangerous, yet we understand the allure of this big, confident man for the lost innocents who enter his realm. Highly recommended.
SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, March 31 (7 p.m.)
The Good Terrorist
After bombing a Johannesburg train station in 1964, John Harris became the sole white anti-apartheid activist to be handed a death sentence.
This artful doc manages to pack a lot of nuance into 50 minutes, humanizing Harris through family photos and Super 8 footage (very cleverly woven, at one point, into the account of his hanging), and seeking to understand a bright and successful man so radicalized by the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 that he ditched nonviolent resistance.
Appearing on camera over half a century later, once-anonymous members of the African Resistance Movement (ARM) still grapple with the meaning of their colleague’s actions. Their insights, none of which you’d describe as simple, take on renewed currency in a time when a Sharpeville massacre seems to happen every day, and not just on other people’s continents.
SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, April 1 (2 p.m.)
In contrast to the vibrant urban sizzle of Vaya, this winner of multiple South African Film and Television Awards plants the viewer inside the colourless world of two white professionals and their traumatized Mozambican domestic help—whose child died under their very roof.
While dancing on the verge of hysteria for most of its running time, Sink somehow retains the cool intensity of a psychological thriller, up until an excruciating final 10 minutes that will either tear viewers to shreds or alienate those who prefer their subtext delivered without the sledgehammer. As a massive, irradiating blast of white guilt, however, there’s no arguing the film’s effectiveness.
SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, April 2 (7 p.m.)