South African film makers have returned from the world-famous Cannes Film Festival in France, with smiles on their faces and freshly signed sales deals in their pockets. It was a year, they told City Press, where black films and women’s films stole the spotlight. by Vukile Dlwati
The big news was about two films with a strong South African presence, Rafiki and The Harvesters – both in competition and both co-productions with other countries.
Banned at home, toasted at Cannes
It took Kenyan film maker Wanuri Kahiu seven years to raise the funds for Rafiki, Africa’s first feature-length lesbian love story, which was co-produced by South Africa’s Steven Markovitz, fresh off his success with the documentary Winnie.
And it was worth the wait.
“Rafiki had an incredible reception and received a standing ovation for about 10 minutes,” Markovitz said this week. This despite Kenya’s film classifiers effectively banning the innocent, tender tale of two young women from the same village who realise they are destined to be together – and their families must learn to accept their love.
Certainly it was accepted by Hollywood star and head juror Cate Blanchett and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, who both praised the film. Vilified at home, Kahiu had to fit in more than 100 interviews with international media.
Rafiki is a co-production between South Africa, Kenya, France and Germany, and at Cannes it was sold to the US, Canada, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium and Switzerland.
“Wanuri was the only African woman director at the festival this year. We’d like to see more black people, and it was symbolically important for her to be there,” said Markovitz.
ER doctor wins over film world
Lwazi Manzi was known as an emergency room (ER) doctor in a hospital – that is until she got bitten by the film bug. Today, she divides her time between the intensive care unit and Spier Films, and the Cannes red carpet. She co-produced The Harvesters, which was screened to a full theatre and won critical praise, most notably from the all-important film industry magazine Hollywood Reporter.
A co-production between South Africa, Greece, Poland and France, the film plays out in a white, conservative, patriarchal rural community. A teenage Janno does not fit in and is emotionally frail. One day his fiercely religious mother brings home Pieter, a hardened orphan she hopes to save. This sets into motion a terrible power struggle between the boys.
The Harvesters also received a standing ovation at Cannes, and had signed distribution deals even before arriving in the upmarket resort town on the French Riviera. Manzi, who has two more international co-productions in the pipeline, was invited to speak at an event at the festival and was blown away by this year’s feminist activism spearheaded by Blanchett, who led a barefoot march against male control of the industry.
“The representation of Africa in film is grossly disproportionate considering the African population in the world,” she told City Press.
“The onus is on us to demand inclusion in the international film industry.”
Sales and distribution expert Pascal Schmitz said black films were the new wave: “The most exciting thing about African films at Cannes this year is that we have picked up by 40% in enquiries and offers of films that have all-black casts.
“All the films we sold to China are all-black cast films, which is what they chose.”
He said the global success of Black Panther helped to pave the way for a brighter future.