NFVF-backed film THE SUIT selected for Oscar-qualifying film festival

Based on the classic short story by Can Themba, a crusading journalist and leading light of the Drum generation, THE SUIT has been selected for the 20th Urbanworld Film Festival which takes place in New York City from the 21-25 September 2016.

The film will be shown at the AMC Empire 25 Theatre, just off Times Square, and will be attended by its writer/director Jarryd Coetsee and producer Luke Sharland of Mandala Films. The film was produced with the support of the National Film and Video Foundation, featuring a cast that includes Tony Award-winner John Kani, Naledi Theatre Award-winner Atandwa Kani and rising star Phuthi Nakene. The Urbanworld Film Festival is a qualifying festival for the Oscars, which means that if THE SUIT wins as part of the Official Competition of the festival, it will be considered for nomination for the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film. The nominations will be announced in November and the ceremony takes place on the last Sunday in February 2017. "Selma" director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo are this year's ambassadors for the festival which is supported by HBO, BET Networks and NBC Universal.

Set in 1950s Sophiatown, THE SUIT tells the story of Philemon who discovers his wife Matilda in bed with a young man. The young man flees, leaving behind his suit. Philemon devises a cruel punishment by forcing Matilda to treat the suit as if it were a person. She must serve the 'visitor' meals, take it to church and for walks around the neighbourhood. As Philemon persists with his sadistic retribution, Matilda succumbs to her broken heart. Though, on the surface, the film deals with the consequences of an extra-marital affair gone wrong, the metaphor acts as a more substantial comment on the brutal effects of the forced removals of the time, and the cyclical nature of oppression. Themba's works, including THE SUIT, were banned by the apartheid regime.

THE SUIT has also been selected from a pool of over 200 films for the Africa in Motion - Scotland African Film Festival. The primary aim of the festival is to offer audiences in Scotland the opportunity to view the best of African cinema from across the continent. THE SUIT will thus be shown in Glasgow and Edinburgh in October 2016. THE SUIT has also been selected for the Shnit International Short Film Festival based in Berne, Switzerland, the world's largest transnational film festival celebrating short films in eight cities across five continents from the 5-16 October 2016.

When asked about the film's selection by three major international festivals and having a shot at the Oscars, screenwriter/director Jarryd Coetsee, who studied film-making at the London Met Film School, based at Ealing Studios, on scholarships from the school and the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, said: "We are delighted by this significant international recognition which is a testament to the sterling work of our 102 cast and crew members and the unflagging support of the NFVF. We are also thrilled at the prospect of sharing this powerful story with a wider global audience." THE SUIT held its official African premiere at the Old Fort of Zanzibar on the 12th July 2016 as part of the 19th Zanzibar International Film Festival where, although it was not in the official competition, was given a Special Mention by the jury.

THE SUIT features music by the legendary American jazz musician Billie Holiday and Spokes Mashiyane who was one of the greatest pennywhistle artists who graced the South African kwela music scene from the 1950s to the 1970s. "We are humbled and extremely grateful to Universal Music, Gallo and Peer Music for allowing us to use Billie Holiday's powerful and poignant plea for racial tolerance, "Strange Fruit", which plays over the final scenes," says Coetsee who chose to use "Strange Fruit", "not only because it was a popular tune played in the shebeens of Sophiatown in the Fifties, but primarily because of the symbolic parallel of institutional racism in South Africa and the USA, which continues today and often manifests in violence. The song clearly resonated with many South Africans at the time as they faced more aggressive persecution along racial lines."

On the day of the forced removals in Sophiatown (9 February 1955 - the police arrived a few days earlier than expected, to avoid organised resistance), two people chose to hang themselves in protest from a large oak tree in Bertha Street where the community usually held meetings. They essentially lynched themselves as a result of the oppressive state's cruel actions. Coetsee felt that "there is a parallel between those sad events which may have inspired Can Themba to write Matilda's tragic fate in the story, and the lynchings in the United States that inspired "Strange Fruit", both the product of oppression." The Sophiatown oak, left standing in Bertha Street when the township was flattened by the apartheid regime, was the first South African tree to be protected by law and declared a 'Champion Tree' under the new National Forests Act in 2003.

On why THE SUIT is relevant, Coetsee says: "Oppression is cyclical in nature. We see it in the consequences of the Syrian civil war which has resulted in one of the largest migrant crises in recent history. We see it in the ongoing conflicts that have inspired the Black Lives Matter campaign in the USA. We see it in the recent SABC censorship of showing violent protests against the lack of service delivery in certain areas. THE SUIT is perhaps more universally relevant today than it was in the 1950s. It is a powerful metaphor for the impact of oppression on personal relationships and also explores how unforgiveness, intolerance and revenge are paradoxically self-destructive."

THE SUIT was first performed as a play at the revolutionary Market Theatre in Johannesburg in the 1990s. The stage adaptation by British playwright Peter Brook ran successfully in the UK, France, USA and elsewhere in 2014. This is the first film adaptation.

THE SUIT was shot in Sophiatown in buildings that survived the forced removals. Some of the scenes were shot on a bus that actually drove the Sophiatown route in the 1950s, supplied by the James Hall Museum of Transport. Costumes were original 1950s pieces or handmade and supplied by Pierre Vienings, costume designer of TSOTSI, WINNIE and THE CHEMO CLUB.


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