Non-fiction authors Jonny Steinberg and Ashwin Desai, were quizzed on “Writing the Other” by facilitator Federico Settler at Saturday’s session at the 16th annual Time of the Writer International Writers Festival.
Ashwin Desai, political commentator, explained that writing about interviews conducted in the place he calls home, Durban, was difficult in that “one can’t escape one’s own biography”. He said in his book, Reading Revolution: Shakespeare on Robben Island, he wanted to talk about what happens when the “Calibans come to power” (referring to Shakespeare’s The Tempest), noting that they often end up acting as “Prosperos”.
Steinberg explained that when he tries to understand the people he writes about, he asks himself “how they feel about their own death”. He explained that his forthcoming book, to be published early in 2014, focuses on a Somali man who led a “deracinated life in Somali, until he saved enough money to hitch-hike to SA, where he now runs a spaza shop in Blikkiesdorp”. He noted that this man insisted on all the interviews he gave Steinberg being held in Steinberg’s car, so that he could see “tsotsis” coming, if there were any, “in a way, trying to escape his own murder”. This gave a sense of the xenophobic conditions under which he had to live, as opposed to Steinberg’s relative safety as a white man.
At question time, a member of the audience asked Steinberg about Little Liberia, querying why there was a “muting of gender” in the text. Steinberg replied that he tends to sink more into the lives of the men he interviews, “perhaps because of projection and the ability to imagine myself in their shoes”. He said however, that “one day I hope to write intimately about a woman”. He said it was important for a writer not to speak over a reader’s head, but to “trust your reader to be able to work out what you show him/her, which must be the guts of it, the story”. He noted how one of his Liberian protagonists found it very traumatic to have sex with his wife for the first time, because she had undergone female circumcision. He then became virulently opposed to it. His wife however, supported the practice, and insisted on her daughters being circumcised too. “Swooping down on cultural practices from the outside doesn’t work,” said Steinberg, “it has to happen from the inside and outside at the same time”.
Desai slated the rhetoric of post-colonial academics who analyse subaltern writing against the dominant discourse, saying it “doesn’t get you closer to the magic”. He said that interviewing people
for his book on Robben Island “humbled” him, although it didn’t stop him from being critical. He noted that “research is a messy business”.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A curiously vulnerable second session focused on “Writing Gender Violence”. The tone was hesitant and yet determined.
Shubnum Khan, author of Onion Tears, said she believed domestic violence’s power comes from “its secrecy and shame”, and welcomed the opportunity to move the discussion from beyond the private confines of the home, to a more public sphere. Shafinaaz Hassim read from her recently published book Sophia, a novel about domestic violence, followed by Kagiso Molope who read from her novel about rape, called This Book Betrays my Brother. Hassim said she chooses to write about violence because she’s a sociologist researching the issue, but wants to unpack these stories “not scientifically, but for a broader audience”. Molope said she grew up in a violent township where she witnessed many attacks on women, and always “wanted to write about the role of the witness. Do you speak out? Make excuses for the men?”
Khan asked the authors to comment on why victims who endure trauma often are further victimised. Hassim said she believes this comes from a “pseudo self-righteous culture of denialism”, where “it has become acceptable to blame the victim for her abuse,” so that she can then be “punished / disciplined / fixed”. Molope said in her book the brother accused of rape rejects his sister when she tries to talk to him about what has happened: and then he excludes her from his community, revealing that her challenge has become a threat for an entire group, not just an individual.
Khan mentioned several high-profile rape/assault cases that have appeared in the media lately, for instance, the rape and murder of Anene Booysen in the Cape, and the shooting of Oscar Pistorius’s girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Hassim said that it is reassuring that there is a renewed consciousness around gender violence, because it is important that civil society fights back. Molope said, from what she has gathered from talking to township people, women in SA are “under siege”, they feel that there is a civil war against them and children.
An audience member asked Hassim whether she believes fiction can be a form of self-help. She said she lent Sophia to someone in an abusive marriage, who chose not to leave. Hassim said perhaps it was too early to see her action as a failed attempt. A man from the audience asked the authors whether they thought a man could write about gender-based violence. Molope said she believed one needs to include “many perspectives”. Another question focused on whether violence can have emancipatory possibilities. Molope said we can’t dictate how victims respond to violence, while Hassim mentioned a movie she saw about an Indian woman who burned her abusive husband to death in a house fire. Molope said it is always a victim’s choice to react in a certain way, but “you owe it yourself to just be you”.
Centre for Creative Arts co-ordinator, Tinso Mungwe, then wrapped up the festival with a vote of thanks for the organisers, funders, and authors.
Renowned US/Palestinian author Susan Abulhawa was the focus of the first session on the Sneddon stage, Wednesday night, at Time of the Writer 2013. Political scientist Lubna Nadvi, the interviewer, asked about Abulhawa’s inspiration for writing her award-winning book, Mornings in Jenin. Initially trained as a biologist, Abulhawa said she began writing political commentary after the Second Intifada in Israel. When she heard of the Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Jenin, she went to the Gaza strip and witnessed first-hand the suffering of the people there. She said this life-changing experience was the catalyst for writing her novel: “people who had lost everything, still found love for each other”.
She explained that the novel (which has been translated into 30 languages) is a piece of historical fiction, and that its aim is not altogether political. Rather, she sees it as trying to challenge the stereotype of Arabs as “crazy animals”. She said she also views it as a love story: between parents, friends, and a man and a woman.
Nadvi asked Abulhawa what she thinks the role of writers is when it comes to social justice issues. Abulhawa said said, “we are shaped by our societies, and what we write shapes our societies right back”. She said she wants to put the Palestinian story on the map, as in the past its literary tradition lay in Arabic poetry, which has been largely inaccessible to the West. She said terrorism has got Palestinian issues noticed in the West, but still “they do not control their own story”. However, Abulhawa emphasised that there is a crop of new writers and artists whose work counters the “Israeli narrative of ethnic cleansing”. She said for her, being a Palestinian writer, presenting her country’s story was “a form of resistance, enabling her to challenge dangerous and damaging myths”.
She spoke of the world’s mostly positive response to her book, saying that she even received letters from American Jews who said they had had no idea of how badly the Israelis were treating the Palestinians. Nadvi mentioned a South African band, The Mavrix, that has been inspired by Abulhawa’s book to make a music video called “Palestine is the New Black”. Watch the video here:
Nadvi asked Abulhawa about the “Nakba”, that is the Palestinian dispossession (the 65th anniversary of being exiled from their homeland by Israel). Abulhawa said it is “the oldest script in the book: an imperialist project”. Of current Palestinian leadership, she conceded it is “all over the place: a geographic, political and psychological fragmentation”. But she said it is a national liberation struggle, and that Palestinians “have a right to live without foreign masters”. She asked South African civil society to find ways to pressurise governments/universities etc to “stop doing business with the racist state”, noting that SA currently contributes $1bn/year to the Israeli economy, a lot of which comes from the “blood diamond industry”.
Noting that 98.6% of Palestinian children suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Abulhawa said that, even should the conflict end tomorrow, “the wounds will take years to heal”. She said she found it “exasperating” that: “Palestinians are blamed for their own fate, and have to negotiate their liberties with their own oppressors”. However, she said she had noticed a “palpable shift” in the way heroic Palestinian acts have made it hard for Israel to hide atrocities against her people. “I get demoralised and depressed,” said Abulhawa, but “at times I also feel empowered and hopeful, because I do see a change in discourse. History shows us that regimes affording exclusivity to one small group of people at the expense of another group generally don’t survive”.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The theme of the second session was quite different! Zinaid Meeran and Nnedi Okorafor discussed “Exploring Genre in African Literature”. The chair, journalist Melinda Ferguson, mentioned that Okorafor has won the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature for her youth fantasy book Zahrah the Windseeker, while her novel Who Fears Death, was the winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2011. Okorafor said that she was the first Afro-American woman to win this award, noting that the bust of HP Lovecraft she was given as a prize offended her, as he had written a poem called, “The Creation of Nigger” many years ago. She said she doesn’t worry so much about pigeon-holing her writing according to genre, even though she “knows there are lots of genre watchdogs out there”. She said to aspirant authors, “rather write what you want to write, and edit it a hundred times, and then let others tell you what genre it is”. She said she thinks of herself as her audience, “writing the mystical stories she wishes to write, hoping to please her readership, but not writing to please them”.
Zinaid Meeran said he sees genre as a “process where art is shaped to make it marketable”, and that, “diabolically, this contains an element of social control”. He said it does have a “useful element, in that it enables the artist to organise his/her ideas, but it is an imposition, nevertheless”. Zinaid said when people described him as writing for an “Indian community,” that he was “flabbergasted”, and wanted to “resist a totalitarian racial category”. He explained that in his most recent novel, Tanuki Ichiban, he has designed a new genre, that of the “riot waif”, abandoned characters who fight back. Melinda Ferguson asked Meeran whether publishers “have to be brave to publish work like yours?” Meeran said humourously that he bought the most copies of Tanuki himself. He said that recognition of his unique genre was important to him: “the feeling of tension dissipates when you meet your underground readership”.
“Writers Writing a New World,” the theme for the 16th annual Time of the Writer International Writers Festival, was mulled over by University of KwaZulu Natal Dean, Cheryl Potgieter, at the festival’s Opening Evening at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on Monday night. After a mellow musical interlude by Thungi, a Zimbabwean group, Potgieter took to the tage, noting that writers can form an activist constituency, playing a moral role in shaping our society. She mentioned that writers need to tackle gender-based violence, quoting the old adage “to know and not to do is not to know”. She also touched on the importance of writers being able to choose to write in their own language.
After Potgieter had left the stage, six well-known Durban activists brought candles up to the podium and read excerpts from Footprints beyond Grey Street, paying tribute to the late Phyllis Naidoo, a “giant of a writer and social activist” who died in Durban earlier this year.
Then it was the turn of the writers to introduce themselves and their thoughts around the theme of “Writing a New World”. First up was Susan Abulhawa, a Palestinian author living in the US, who has just finished attending Israeli Apartheid Week in Johannesburg. She read from her majorly successful novel Mornings in Jenin, describing herself as one of a handful of novelists who present the Palestinian story in an authentic voice (in the past Palestine has been misrepresented by authors from other cultures).
Next was a feisty Jackee Batanda, from Uganda, who also emphasised the importance of Ugandans speaking for themselves. She will be participating in a panel entitled “The Writer as Reporter”, later on in the week.
Elana Bregin, a Durban novelist, spoke of her most recent novel, Survival Training for Lonely Hearts, which she said uses romance as a lens to examine a troubled South Africa. She believes the role of the writer is to craft well-told stories, and engage in a “sensual dance with the greater existence”. She commended the explosion of the “online world” as creating a sense of “fun and play”, but warned that “few online things have lasting value,” stressing that the writer’s role is “not to go viral, but vertical, to leave a lasting record of the complex, astonishing and difficult world that we once were part of”.
Another Durbanite, Ashwin Desai followed on from Bregin, saying that a “brave new world” cannot be written by “propagandists or cowards”. He called for writers to deliver honest “post-apartheid commentary”.
Then, Nigerian Jude Dibia took the microphone, focussing on his particular interest, which is “Queer Africa”. He explained his most popular novel is Walking the Shadows, a book about homosexuality, which sold 300% more copies than any of his other books, even in Nigeria, where according to the government, “there are no gay people”.
Damon Galgut tried to describe the “mysterious process of becoming a writer,” by narrating the story of how, at 12, his teacher read him and his classmates a Roald Dahl story called “Pig”. After complaints from parents that the subject matter was too disturbing, the teacher was banned from sharing any more Dahl stories. He said this piqued his interest in writing, that text could make a familiar world unfamiliar.
Shafinaaz Hassim, who writes about gender-based violence, called on writers to “constantly review the effect of violence”. She said that as a writer she “tries to give violence a voice”. She explained that her most recent book, Sophia, a book about domestic violence, is written to encourage children to speak about hidden abuse. She ended on an optimistic note, saying that with the telling of our stories, “the poison will seep out and we will find our human light again”.
Duncan Kgatea, an ex-mineworker from Rustenburg, who writes youth novels, described writers as prophets, who must be a nation’s conscience. He referred to the title of one of his books, Look into the mirror, encouraging young people to carry a metaphoric mirror with them that enhances their sense of self-acceptance.
Bhekisigcino Khawula, a Zulu author from umZinto, used a translator to address the audience. There was a lovely rapport between the two, sparking a lot of laughter in the auditorium. He said he wished more people would learn to speak isiZulu.
Zinaid Meeran delivered a very wacky address, saying that he “conceived of human nature as sparks flow, bringing freedom”, and that his writing reflected this.
Andile Mngxitama slated SA’s democracy, saying it “meant electing the next set of fascists”. He decried the fact that ongoing violence has become normalised, asking writers to “show rulers for what they are”. He asked “how do we love, and write poetry, under such circumstances,” inviting the audience to the launch of his novella at Ike’s Books on Saturday.
Kagiso Molope explained that mothering a boy had triggered the writing of her novel This book betrays my brother, as she had to think carefully about her role in addressing violence against women and children in SA.
Nnedi Okorafor, a Nigerian author living in the US, said she felt comfortable with the theme of “Writing a New World”. She explained that Nigeria is her muse.
Graham Reid, a South African academic, who wrote a book called How to be a real gay, spoke of a positive global shift in attitude towards homosexuals, emphasising that many cultural traditions are “hybrid, fluid and changing”.
Jo-Anne Richards, who will be launching her next novel The Imagined Child at this festival said she believes politically troubled SA is a “gift for writers”. She said of her own role as writer that she “doesn’t write parables, explores rather than exposes, writing not didactically or to create invisible signposts … but to rummage through the parts of our strange new society”. She said she believes “love and redemption come from facing our own flaws”.
Aman Sethi, an Indian author, whose book A Free Man documents the lives of daily wage-labourers sleeping on Delhi’s streets, said he believes the role of the writer is “to listen to those who are building the new world with their own hands”.
Lastly, Jonny Steinberg read an extract from his soon-to-be-published book about a Somali refugee who walked from his homeland to reach SA.
Neels Jenssen from the EU took the mic, commending all the poets published in this year’s anthology. He said “your work is another stepping stone towards a common culture in SA”. He announced that Vonani Bila had won second prize with his poem, “boys from seshego”, while Siddiq Khan was the overall winner with his poem “Anthem for Old Nations”. An insouciant, confident Khan then read his poem.
Ghanaian poet Nii Ayikwei Parkes set a low-key, mellow tone for the main evening’s line-up. He brought in a musical element, asking us to “compare the weight of a guitar string / to the weight of the people it moves”. Although he tackled difficult topics, like slavery, his melodious voice, and nuanced lyrics stood in sharp contrast to some of the angrier poets attending this year’s festival who also wrote about racism. In a humourous poem called “This is not a love poem”, Parkes wrote “this is not a love poem – it’s a sexed-up dossier … a lingering breath of hot air / as it creeps up your thighs / it’s a game, a solo, while I riff a plan to strip you of everything you own”. In the next poem, called “This is a love poem”, Parkes cajoled the woman of his dreams to let him make “you a part of me”.
Niels Hav, from Denmark, the next poet up on stage was funny too, but not erotic. He explained that for him, poetry must be “emblematic. A reader must feel at home with his own feelings in my poem”. He wrote about falling in love with five consecutive women he sees on a bus, who don’t notice him, concluding wryly: “It always ends up that way, you are left standing on a curb, sucking on a cigarette, mildly unhappy”. I loved his poem about a pen where he said: “Poetry is not for sissies / a poem must be a Dow Jones index / a mixture of reality and sheer bluff”. He congratulated SA on “moving in the right direction”, reading a poem he wrote about the country years ago, focussing on the “butterfly effect”, how a small change in one part of the world can create ripples far away. A pragmatic poet, Hav concluded: “if you want something said / you’ll have to say it yourself”. His last poem, concise, pointed, dealt with the end of Western society: “we’ll be gone / they’ll be gone / Hallelujah”.
Last up before the interval was beloved SA poet, Rustum Kozain. His poetry, a mixture of earnestness, passion and melancholia, never fails to cut to the quick. Reading a poem about his first lover, he referred to the “failed algorithms of heartbreak”. Although aware that “it’s not done to apostrophise some romantic absence”, he focussed on the perpetual presence of hurt, both politically (as in apartheid) and privately (romantically). He premiered two new poems not performed publicly before. The first one, “Gods of War”, inspired by a photograph of two sisters in contemporary Syria, was raw and intense, questioning the existence of God in a world tainted by the brutality of war. Kozain asked: “Who wants to rule this tired republic of shame and men in suits smirking / when God dies in Syria, where he was made / what does it matter?” His poetry evinces a visionary element, he is in search of something sacred, as revealed by the last poem he read, “Kingdom of Rain II”, from his second collection Groundwork. This poem shows ecological thinking as the poet explores his feeling of kinship with a leopard: “Yes, I want to let that leopard know / that it is part of me / and I am part of it / in all the ways that that could mean.”
After the interval, D’bi Young, a bold warrior poet from Jamaica (currently living in Cape Town), arrested the audience with her provocative poems about taboo topics, such as incest, slavery, HIV/AIDS and menstruation. Sounding a little like Joan Armatrading, she sang about her need for acceptance, and a revolution of love.
Closing the evening session was Tumi Molekane, a well-known SA rapper. Members of the audience, knew his songs by heart, interjected as he spoke about Gangsters: “this one’s a rebel / could kick start a coup d’etat”. Molekane was a performer with panache, thanking Peter Rorvik and the Centre for Creative Arts for “making me collide with all these intellectual people and sex-bombs”. He had the crowd up and dancing with his rendition of “I can’t decide if it’s the money”, before MC Carol Gumede wrapped up, thanking all the poets, and sending us home.
Much loved Thekwini musos Guy Buttery and Nibs van der Spuy, just back from a tour of Europe, provided the intro to the main event on the third evening of Poetry Africa 2012, their guitar work delicate and interesting as usual.
The first poet on stage, Tumelo Khoza, hails from Empangeni, and currently lives in Durban. Young, and confident, dressed simply in jeans and a T-shirt declaiming, “Poet”: Khoza has just returned from visiting Sweden, where she was hosted by the Ordsprak poets (also represented at Poetry Africa this year). Tumelo was inclusive in her delivery, inviting a guitarist to accompany her as she spoke her first poem “Black-padded bra”, then calling up two young male dancers to animate her poem “Democracy”. Feistily, she characterised “Democracy” as a vagrant “forever high on a spliff of our disjointed society…he’s a reflection of you and me”. Khoza’s poem about abortion was hard-hitting and deeply felt; she cried as she performed it. In a playful about-turn of gender roles, she summoned Ghanaian poet Nyii Ayikwei Parkes, on to stage, where she recited a remixed nursery rhyme, which, although a little strained, was admirable in its rendering of her as the active pursuer, and him as the passive recipient of her love interest. Her last poem, a direct address to Jacob Zuma, implored the President to acknowledge SA youth, asserting that “our silence is the cheapest gold”.
Following on from Khoza was a poet from Reunion, Gouslaye, who performed his poetry in Creole (it was translated on an overhead projector). His work was foreign, other: quite eerie, strange and philosophical. Speaking of “magic visions, I dream with eyes wide open”, he summoned up ethereal, occasionally bizarre, often fantastical images of a man wandering through nature. I wondered if the translator had got it wrong, naming Reunion the “barmy” island, or perhaps Gouslaye really did think the island induces madness? The music Gouslaye made with a piece of hosepipe whirled round his head added an element of melodrama.
Last up before interval, Philo Ikonya, a Kenyan poet, showed a strong rootedness in human rights activism. She said she was glad to have had the chance to get a suntan, and braided hair, from “fabulous” Durban. She refuted claims that an activist is like a “female Anopheles mosquito, a blood sucker looking for donor money”, instead noting that the “word is powerful / this optic fibre is here,” and emphasising her belief that a “person is a person because of other people”. Ikonya’s poem dedicated to the 44 miners killed at Marikana was hair-raising, as she brought the audience in to sing “Senzeni Na” (what have we done). Calling for better pay for miners, she said simply, but powerfully, “let us open up new ways/let the miners sing new songs”. In closing Ikonya said she had Mandela’s face in her mind as she performed that poem, she thanked the audience for singing and connected her with the feelings.
After the interval, SA musician Pedro Espi-Sanchez performed one song (played on a piece of Paw-paw sapling he had hollowed out as we watched), and then ushered in Xhosa matriarch and mouthbow player Madosini, in full traditional regalia. The audience ululated as she played songs she had learnt as a girl, which were anthropologically interesting as she revived a way of life gone by.
The last act for the night was Oliver Mtukudzi, a Zimbabwean legend. Strangely quite hesitant at first, the guitarist nevertheless had us in the palm of his hand as he played expertly, explaining: “Where I come from music is like food…also, we use it to diffuse tension”. He explained his world view “life is what you make it”. For me it was interesting to learn more about one of my favourite Mtukudzi songs, “What shall we do”. He explained that he wrote it to get his fellow Zimbabweans thinking about AIDS, saying he felt he had succeeded in making people listen.
Eventually Peter Rorvik, director of the Centre for Creative Arts, and all the poets joined Mtukudzi on stage, dancing as the audience stood up and clapped to the music.
The second evening of the 16th Poetry Africa Festival in Durban kicked off with Cape Town poet Rustum Kozain launching his second collection, Groundwork, at the Wellington Tavern.
Following on from here, Nkolo Madidi, the host for the evening, took to the stage and welcomed University of KwaZulu Natal Vice-Chancellor William Makgoba, who was in the audience.
The line-up of the main event started with Mbali Vilakazi, a performance poet from the Eastern Cape, who at times used voice-overs and reverberation to give her poetry more clout. Clearly, the personal is political for Vilakazi, a feminist, as she vowed “however I crash and burn / there’s always enough faith to begin again”.
Her poem about the girl assaulted for daring to wear a miniskirt to Noord Station in Pretoria was particularly striking, as she described “sixty grown men encircling children,” and the fact that the girl may never wear the skirt again as “it has become a scar across her heart”. In another poem she explored how the power of the patriarchal system has succeeded in making women unfamiliar to themselves, but reminded us that “we must always remember that we have survived”. Vilakazi’s last poem focused on the wonderful image of the phoenix who never dies, reminding those who suffer from crises of identity that comfort can be found in the routine: “Ordinary people, there is solace in this…it is an everyday of who we are”.
Next up were the Ordsprak Poets, a collective from Sweden. All four poets shared a common humour, although their subject matter diverged. Sam Kessel recited a rambling narrative poem for his grandfather (who came from Lithuania to Pretoria) – although he never met him, he said he felt closer to him by travelling to South Africa. Laura Wilborg’s poem about social alienation was enhanced by her fragmented, nervous delivery. She read a poem she wrote when she was seven, explaining that she is trying to reach out to the child in her, as she is working on a children’s play. Oskar Hanska rapped a spontaneous and hilarious poem about falling in love and being dumped, which resonated with the audience.
Following on from the Swedes, Tolu Ogunlesi, a Nigerian poet, set a far more considered, even tone, as he read poems set in various countries of the world. After the interval, Werewere Liking, from the Cote d’Ivoire, charmed the audience with her spirited delivery of songs and poems in her native French (with the help of a translator at times). A spry grandmother, clothed in a pants suit made from African fabric, and adorned with beads, she danced as she declaimed: “I want African women’s dreams for a better life / even when they sound sentimental, as long as they speak and carry from afar”. Her poetry was refreshing. As she invited us to Walk for Peace, she reminded us of what UNESCO says: one should rather walk for, rather than against – as if you struggle against something, it saps your energy.
The last poet up, Saul Williams, from the US, was clearly the most charismatic of the performers on stage that night. His dynamic poetry mirrored the anger of Mbali Vilakazi, in that both poets challenge social norms that perpetuate racism. Williams had a certain fiery evangelism as he proclaimed: “I am you, but I am also me / pastor of sheep that graze in the street”. He warned us “this nigger bites”. Although fierce, Williams also evinced tenderness as he spoke poetry about his children. He challenged the audience, asking us: “What is your mind’s immigration policy? Are you certain you are not a victim of identity fraud?” concluding in the same poem: “Fuck your thought police / fuck you reality show / fuck your faction”. We were mesmerised, but not surprised as he said he would like to write a “burning book”.
Williams said that he always forgot how “cool it feels to be at a poetry festival – it does something wonderful, to add this city, this country, these people – to a festival”.
The 33rd Durban International Film Festival invites you to explore some of the many exciting and diverse facets of this year’s edition of the largest and longest-running film festival in the country. Below, you will find information on a small selection of the many areas of interest that will be part of DIFF 2012: the French Focus, for Francophiles and cinephiles; the Eco Lens, for those who care about our earthly habitat; the competition section, which recognises and awards cinematic excellence of some of the festival films; and Wavescape Surf Film Festival, which showcases a hot selection of surf and ocean-minded films. See you at DIFF!
AWARDS AND JURIES AT THE 33rd DURBAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Award Night at the Durban International Film Festival will honour a selection of films that stand out as exemplary works of cinema. The awards are announced at the Supernova, Suncoast Cinema, on the 28th July immediately prior to the Closing Film, which is the much anticipated South African animation Adventures in Zambezia.
FRENCH FOCUS AT THE 33rd DURBAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
The Durban International Film Festival, supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (principal funder) presents a special focus on French cinema for its 2012 edition as part of the France – South Africa Seasons 2012 & 2013. This focus will bring not only a rich representation of 18 outstanding French films, but also some important industry initiatives intended to stimulate the growth of cinema on the African continent.
DURBAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL SHINES LIGHT ON ECOLOGICAL ISSUES
The environment around us has never been so under threat by the impact of human exploitative activity on its own habitat. From climate change to the destruction of precious flora and fauna, the Eco Lens at Durban International Film Festival 2012 (supported by principal funder, the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund) brings environmental issues under the microscope.
Wavescape, presented by the Durban International Film Festival, with principal funding by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, brings an ocean-conscious message through films that remind us of the aesthetic value and life-giving force our earth’s precious body of water.
Kicking off the evening event for Tuesday at the Time of the Writer 2011, chair Achille Mbembe, from Cameroon, asked South African writers Lauren Beukes and Aziz Hassim to define the “inner city” that appears in their fiction. It soon became apparent that the urban areas they depict in their texts – Beukes’ Hillbrow (as rendered in her novel Zoo City), and Hassim’s Casbah (as described in his novel The Lotus People) – are quite different phenomenae.
Hassim’s novel has a strong nostalgic quality, while Beukes brings in fantastical elements (there are magical creatures in her version of the city). At the same time her work as a journalist for the last 12 years has made her anchor her writing in the real, albeit subverted in interesting ways.
Beukes said she wanted to write about the city because “it interested her more than the hidden cosy enclaves of the suburbs”. She said she found Johannesburg’s ‘breakpoints’ fascinating, in that it is in these troubled, vibrant “ghetto” spaces that people make their lives, and come to terms with what haunts them. She emphasised that she sees Hillbrow as a “vital ambitious community”, not a “desperate slum”.
Hassim said he feels that writing about where he’s from (he grew up in Durban’s Casbah) is not fiction, it is more like documentary work. He spoke of the Casbah as a place where everybody was a “broer”, where race was not an issue, where the community insisted on keeping things safe. For this listener, he came across as romanticising a time past, which made his description less credible. He mentioned that each city has its ‘own ethos,’ saying that Durban’s allowed for ‘anonymity’.
Beukes alluded to a discussion with Ben Williams, editor of BOOK SA, who believes that the time of the “introspective white man’s pastoral” in SA has passed, to be replaced by writing that describes the intense teeming life of cities. She apologised to any JM Coetzee fans in the audience.
Mbembe summed up the debate succinctly, saying it is clear that current fiction about the inner city portrays it as a space of fragility, vulnerability and potentiality.
Next up were two authors who, in this listener’s opinion, did not really connect. Sarah Nuttall, cultural theorist, whose most recent book is called Entanglement, challenged Raj Patel, whose book Stuffed and Starved deals with global food policy, to move past the ‘bankrupt’ idea of ‘revelatory academic critique’ towards one of ‘critical intimacy’ with the reader that will enable them to make change possible.
Nuttall said although people have learned, through social media, to deconstruct their worlds, “we are still not affective”. To me, Patel did not seem to be disagreeing with Nuttall at all, arguing for the “radically democratic idea that pleasure needs to be democratised” – for instance peoples’ enjoyment of “slow food”. I did not see him as punting himself as an “intellectual unravelling truth”, as Nuttall labelled him. (One also had a hard time agreeing with Nuttall’s description of herself as a “deep dilettante”.)
Richard Pithouse, from the Rhodes Philosophy Department, did a good job of holding the at times fragmented conversation together, concluding with an interesting banner held up in Tahrir Square that read “I used to watch TV, now TV watches us”.
The JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience runs until 12th September and you can visit the JOMBA! KHULUMA blogspot for regular updates, reviews and beautiful photos by Val Adamson. Over the 12 days of the festival veteran journalist Adrienne Sichel will mentor seven UKZN honours students in a process of learning how to decode, read and write about dance performance.
Twitter @Jomba_Dance will forward links of all blog posts!
Watch out for the two JOMBA! Khuluma print editions!
Adrienne Sichel is winner of the 2009 Alan Kirkland Soga Lifetime Achiever award presented by Mondi Shanduka Newsprint and the Newspaper Association of South Africa. She has a reputation for being a fearless defender of artistic and press freedoms in South Africa and has a lifetime reputation of fighting for coverage for dance and theatre in South Africa. Her decades of arts journalism inspires and provokes!.
Sichel will also co- host and facilitate the selected JOMBA! TALKS DANCE forums in which dancer- choreographers will get to speak about their work – all in an attempt to raise the critical debate around dance in South Africa. Check the schedule for dates!
JOMBA! 2010 is made possible with support by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (principle funder), the National Arts Council, the City of Durban, HIVOS, Pro-Helvetia Arts Council of Switzerland, Karbardock, and other valued partners.
The Durban Short Film Challenge is an exhilarating filmmaking competition organized by the Durban Youth in Film Society, which takes place from May 24 to June 15, and is showcased at the Durban International Film Festival from July 22 to August 1, 2010.
The challenge is open to all South African Film-makers. Participating teams have three weeks to write, shoot and edit a short film or video around a specific theme. The top 12 films submitted will be selected for screening during the Durban International Film Festival.
The theme for the challenge will be announced on the ‘Film Tower’ group on the social networking site www.facebook.com. Alternatively, interested parties can send an email to email@example.com on 24 May and the theme will be emailed to them.
The challenge starts on 24 May 2010 and runs up until and including 14 June 2010. The films entered have to be exactly 5 minutes excluding opening and end titles and can be in any genre. The final films have to be delivered on or before 15 June 2010. There are facilities for participants to upload their films onto www.vimeo.com and email the link to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“During this official competition period, the idea is that all creativity will take place, including but not limited to writing the script, rehearsing, costume and set design, filming, editing, rendering, sound designing.” explains Tiny Mungwe, co-ordinator of the challenge. “Teams are able to establish their organising creative team, cast, equipment and scouting and securing locations before this period, but can only begin once we have announced the theme. The winning film will qualify the director or writer of the film for a place in the National Film and Video Foundation’s Sediba SPARK programme.”
Full information about the short film challenge, as well as the rules and regulations can be found on www.diff.ukzn.ac.za.
The Durban Short Film Challenge is a project of the Durban Film Society in partnership the Durban International Film Festival, hosted by the Centre for Creative Arts (UKZN). The Durban Short Film Challenge is thankful for the support of the Durban Film Office.