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DIFF Diary: Day 2

by Roger Young and Sarah Dawson / 24.07.2010


Coming out of “The White Meadows” I see Khalo Matabane standing around holding his stomach, I try and schedule an interview for tomorrow but he’s asked me to postpone it until Monday because, he’ll “finish drinking on Sunday”. It’s that stage of the festival. Most of the people who were at last nights opening party have been wandering around the Royal from workshop to conference looking slightly drained, it’s not that the party was hectic, it’s the fact that you have to get up in the morning and engage people intelligently as well. The cocktail lounge upstairs goes pay bar early and the big public parties will fade away while the business element of the festival kicks in for the next few days.

THE WHITE MEADOWS: Dir: Mohammed Rasoulof (Iran)
I never understand why people describe films mostly free of dialogue as lyrical. If anything The White Meadows is elegiac, filled with white musty images that inhabit a narrative bordering on magical realism. Rahmut, a boatman on Iran’s salt encrusted Lake Urmia, travels between small villages clustered on salt islands in the white sea collecting tears from those with heartache into a glass bottle. The islands are sparsely populated by people clinging to their ancient beliefs in fairies and superstitions about a time when the water was drinkable. It’s slow without being ponderous and at times feels almost meaningless, even if packed so densely with covert meaning. A boy pretends to be a dead woman to stowaway on Rahmut’s boat in a quest to find his missing father that never starts. Events unfold into a resigned barbarism; people are brutally punished for small crimes against tradition without the film ever really changing pace. The boatman travels on collecting tears for a purpose that never becomes entirely clear. Long after the other films of the evening emotional effects have left me, I’m still feeling Meadows even if there was nothing to it that felt deeply engaging while watching it.

PARADISE STOP: Dir: Jann Turner (South Africa)
Jann Turner teams up again with her producers and stars from White Wedding, Kenneth Nkosi and Rapulana Seiphemo in this well crafted plot driven populist comedy crime drama. Turner’s real achievement is in the pacing between the drama and the comedy, the script and direction allow us to get to know the characters, for the humor to come from them rather than being imposed on them. Potso, a disgraced cop has been demoted to a small town in Limpopo, his marriage is falling apart and his superior doesn’t really think police work matters. A series of trucking heists has been occurring and solving them might be his ticket back to the big city but he can’t convince his superior to allow him to keep investigating. Ben Khumalo is the owner of the local truck stop and Potso’s friend, when Khumalo is forced to re-enter the big time heist business through pressure from a gangster he uses his friend unwittingly to help him out. Hi-jinks ensue. Paradise Stop doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is, a comedy aimed at mainstream cinema goers. The fact that it is well crafted and assumes the audience has a modicum of intelligence is what makes this kind of film important to the development of a local cinema. It’s this kind of filmmaking that will restore local audiences faith in South African made film. It’s also a vast improvement on White Weddings semi Schuster brand of comedy mainly because of the restraint that all involved display in regard to performance.

SEX&DRUGS&ROCK&ROLL: Dir: Mat Whitecross (UK)
This biopic about musician Ian Dury, a theatrical late punk musical innovator, feels a bit forced. It overemphasizes the fact that Dury was crippled by polio and had fractured relationships but spends little time on his trajectory to stardom other than a few standard music video like stage reenactments, token studio destroying punk antics and some zippy collage animation skim-overs. Andy Serkis delivers a solid performance but the structure of the film is at time seemingly quite random and lacking in emotional causality. Characters that aren’t Dury are there merely to be shouted at or apologized to by him without having any emotional inner life. It might be true to say the being crippled affected Dury’s self esteem to the point that that is exactly how he saw people but it makes for a film that constantly labours the point, talking down to the audience and repeating Spartacus references ad infinitum in case you didn’t get it the first time. The recreations of the time in the music scene are excellent but the actual music is almost an afterthought. It just seemed strange to me that a film about a man who overcame his physical disadvantages to become a successful musician focuses so heavily on the physical disadvantages and so lightly on the act of making the music, there is a lot of, albeit effectively handled, skimming through things like getting a band together and becoming famous to make way for the drama of Dury but eventually this drama tends to get a little repetitive. I get that it might be the way he actually was but I just couldn’t find it convincing. If anything it felt a little rote but everybody else I spoke to coming out of the cinema loved it, so what the fuck do I know right?


Yesterday I went to hang out for a bit at the Royal Hotel, which acts as a kind of central hub during the festival, hosting panel discussions, seminars, pitch sessions, some screenings, and all the festival admin, as well as accommodating all the distinguished guests for the duration of DIFF. Basically the place is overrun with film-types, and you can’t ride the elevator without hearing a young filmmaker throwing a pitch at some industry bigwig, or some juicy movie-world anecdote.

This year it’s also hosting the 3rd Durban Talent Campus, and the inaugural Durban Film Mart. These are two really important developments in the local industry. Talent Campus (affiliated with the Berlin Talent Campus) brings about 40 young filmmakers from around the continent to Durban. They stay in the hotel and spend a week forming connections with each other for future collaborations and co-productions, and network with more established industry names. They get a chance to pitch to industry experts, they attend seminars, participate in discussions, go to premieres and parties. In an African industry battling to find its own voice, this is a really important initiative.

The Film Mart, in its first year, provides an opportunity to filmmakers to a selected number of projects to facilitate their finding funding and coproduction opportunities with industry partners from around the globe. 12 projects were selected to participate, and filmmakers and financiers will be sitting in meetings facilitated by the festival and the Durban Film Office over the next week or so, hoping to get some films made.

I sat in on a panel discussion called Africa Connects, featuring speakers Bhekizizwe Peterson, Eve Rantseli and someone called Kisha (whose surname I missed) from Focus Features. These seminars are always surprisingly constructive, and while it sometimes veers off into whining about how there’s no money, or that Africa is overlooked, largely the discussions remain optimistic and seek solutions to these problems.

J’AI TUE MA MERE: Dir: Xavier Dolan (Canada)
J’ai Tue ma Mere (I Killed my Mother)is a French Canadian film that was written, directed and starred in by Xavier Dolan, who was only 21 at the time of the films completion. Despite this, it is a remarkably cinematically mature work.

It deals with the complicated relationship between gay 16-year-old, Hubert and his mother. His dependence on her frustrates him and is impatient to escape their close relationship, which he sees as an obstacle to the adulthood he longs for. Everything about her annoys him. From the way she eats, to the expressions she uses. Their strained relationship is stretched the furthest when his mother finds out about his homosexuality from a stranger.

Their impassioned arguments speak of Dolan’s personal experience, but rather than the film being its own adolescent tantrum, it is quite meditative and quiet (despite the rapid-fire insult volleys).

The performances were really outstanding – not only from Dolan – but from the mother who balances beautifully a complex mixture of states – her sensitive, maternal concern, her own emotional dependence on her son, and her anger at his rejection of her.

The visual style, filled with lovely little transitional montages of remembered objects and the dark orangey-reds of his mother’s home, is simultaneously superficially quirky and moody. With hipster Dolan’s sense of aesthetics clearly influenced by images of James Dean and Coco Chanel, and with a number of gorgeous young male actors, one could perhaps find room to be critical of the film’s “trendiness”, but I think this would only be fair if it were in any way aesthetically incoherent, or vacuous, which it’s not.

METROPIA: Dir : Tarik Saleh (Sweden)
On to Metropia. Directed by Egyptian-Swede Tarik Saleh, and starring the voices of Vincent Gallo and Juliette Lewis, Metropia speaks of a not-too-too-distant smoggy dystopian future following global economic decline and environmental melt-down. The whole of Europe is now linked by super-network of underground rail systems.

Using animated still photographs, the films looks really good. It’s uniquely realised in a kind of dreary, grey detail that can’t but be admired. Though I usually hate this kind of comparison, I think it’s not totally inaccurate to describe it as having a “South Park meets Fight Club” feel.

However, while it looks really cool, and is very effectively atmospheric, the animation style gives the film a kind of stiffness – it struggles to move with any varied pace. The conspiratorial story is, however, intriguing enough to keep you watching – authorities who can control your mind with dandruff shampoo, a mysterious supermodel who should or should not be trusted, bombs and spy-cams contained within Hello Kitty plushies and television sets. Stylistically it’s innovative, but the vision of the future is not particularly imaginative. Gallo and Lewis do a great job of adding a humanity with which we can identify.

VISA/VIE – Dir Elan Gamaker (South Africa)
A SMALL TOWN CALLED DESCENT – Dir Jahmil QT Qubeka (South Africa)
MAMMOTH – Dir Lukas Moodysson (Sweden/Denmark/Germany)

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