VSAFF is proud to be an outreach partner for this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, which runs Sept. 24 to Oct. 9 and features a spotlight on South Africa. We encourage you to check out the following five films, and don’t forget to mark your calendars for the 2016 VSAFF, which runs April 8-10 at SFU Woodward’s:
The Boda Boda Thieves (North American Premiere)
Sept 24, 6:30 p.m., Rio Theatre
Sept. 26, 1 p.m., International Village
Conceived as an homage to Vittorio De Sica’s classic Bicycle Thieves, Donald Mugisha and James Tayler’s unsparing look at life on the streets of Kampala—neorealism “with a youthful edge” in their words—is anchored in the story of Abel (Hassan “Spike” Insingoma), 15, who takes over his father’s (Michael Wawuyo) motorcycle taxi, the “boda boda” of the title. Impatient with the meagre wages he makes, he throws in his lot with a group of petty thieves, using his boda boda as a getaway vehicle. When the bike is stolen, however, his family is without any source of income and Abel must stop at nothing to retrieve the precious machine…
Ayanda and the Mechanic (Canadian Premiere)
Sept 30, 8:30 p.m., Rio Theatre
Oct 3, 10:45, a.m., International Village
In the Johannesburg community of Yeoville, 21-year-old Afro-hipster Ayanda (the captivating Fulu Moguvhani) makes a living repurposing scrap metal into funky furniture, working alongside the two remaining mechanics in her late father’s garage. The garage, however, is deep in debt and in danger of being sold—a possibility that Ayanda sees as an affront to her father’s memory. Drawing on her skills, she hatches a plan that might just save the garage—even as it may end up compromising Ayanda’s future… Sara Blecher’s (Otelo Burning) multicultural, colourful and vibrant drama does a wonderful job of capturing the “Afropolitan” nature of the new South Africa.
Breathe Umphefumlo (Canadian Premiere)
Oct 1, 11 a.m., International Village
Oct 2, 6:30 p.m., Vancouver Playhouse
Ten years ago, Mark Dornford-May and the Isango Ensemble burst upon the scene with Berlin Golden Bear-winner U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, their stirring adaptation of Bizet’s Carmen. Drawing once again from an operatic source—Puccini’s La bohème—Dornford-May and team bring the Xhosa language, exceptional singing voices and traditional instrumentation to a Cape Town-set tragedy that, like other recent South African films, offers a bracing mix of theatricality, naïveté and innocence.
The ensemble has used the tragic real-life tuberculosis pandemic currently spreading in South Africa—the Cape Town district of Khayelitsha has one of the highest affliction rates in the world—as a realistic backdrop to the story of a group of bohemian college students pursuing their dreams and, more specifically, one such young man, Lungelo (Mhlekazi “Wha Wha” Mosiea), a journalism student who fancies himself a poet. During a not-infrequent power outage, Lungelo meets the consumptive art student Mimi (Busisiwe Ngejane) and their doomed romance begins…
The Dream of Shahrazad (Canadian Premiere)
Oct 1, 8:30 p.m., The Cinematheque
Oct 4, 3:15 p.m., Centre for Performing Arts
A beautifully realized paean to art and democracy, set in Istanbul, Cairo, Beirut and Alexandria, François Verster’s ambitious, multilayered documentary combines the tale of Shahrazad (and the 1001 stories she tells) with many other stories of the modern Arab world.
Verster’s beautifully shot and profoundly secular-humanist work skips back and forth through time and space to weave its own striking tapestry about the modernizing force of art. He shows that despite the antidemocratic pressures faced by Turks and Egyptians (especially), the artists, musicians and storytellers will refuse to give up. And, like Shahrazad, they will triumph eventually. It may take more than 1001 nights, but it will come…
Thina Sobabili: The Two of Us (Canadian Premiere)
Oct 3, 4 p.m., SFU Woodward’s
Oct 8, 8:30 p.m., The Cinematheque
Recent films made by black directors from South Africa often have certain things in common, mainly a bracing mix of theatricality, naïveté and innocence that is often punctuated by shocking violence. A film with a big heart, Ernest Nkosi’s realistic tale about a young man in the Alexandra Township of Johannesburg who will do anything to protect his younger sister after witnessing her abuse as a child fits directly into this mold (as does, to a degree, Breathe Umphefumlo, also screening in this year’s VIFF). Compassionate and tragic by turns, Thina Sobabili (the phrase means “the two of us”) can also be seen as hovering on the edge of a musical, particularly given its extraordinarily plaintive score and its stylized use of slow motion. The way Nkosi deals with common experiences and clichés head-on, while treating them deadly seriously, even tenderly, marks this debut as something special.