Top South African Films To Add To Your Bucket List

It could be said that South Africa is, at long last, moving into its own era of a new wave in locally produced and distributed cinema.

Like the French, German and American new waves of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, meant to quench a thirst for a new realism and more personal stories in cinema, it seems Mzansi and the rest of Africa is leaning towards a similar development in its movie output. Especially after the release of powerhouse films such as Five Fingers for Marseilles, The Recce, Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie and Inxeba (The Wound) to the ravings of local and international audiences and critics. I think it’s safe to proclaim the South African New Wave of cinema is at hand.

There are scores of new and important films being made, screened, and awarded all over the globe, hailing from the African continent. This is the time for our equivalents of Le Beau Serge, Easy Rider, The 400 Blows, Yesterday Girl or The Wild Bunch. Here we highlight some of the most exciting local films currently screening, upcoming or which are in various stages of production.

The Harvesters

In the Free State, a white Afrikaans stronghold of masculinity and strength, a mother brings home an orphan to her son, Janno, and expects him to turn the stranger into a brother. A battle for power, birthright and paternal love unfolds between the two. This film, a co-production between South Africa, Greece, Poland and France, has been favourably received by critics and film festivals all over the globe. It stars Danny Keogh, Benré Labuschagne, Alex van Dyk and Morné Visser. This cutting-edge drama, directed by Etienne Kallos, has not yet been screened commercially in South Africa. However, it has had a lengthy festival run and is scheduled to release in France early next year.

Rafiki

When love blossoms between Kena and Ziki, the two Kenyan girls are forced to choose between happiness and safety. The film has been very well received in competition at the biggest festivals globally and raked in several awards during its run. It is also the first Kenyan film to premiere at Cannes. Rafiki is a co-production between several countries but mainly South Africa and Kenya. Starring Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva and directed by Wanuri Kahiu, it was banned twice in its country of origin and setting, on grounds of it handling a lesbian love affair. However, in response, it topped the Kenyan box office over all other mainstream blockbusters on its release.

Kanarie

This is a ‘coming-of-age war musical’ about a young gay man serving in the military choir during conscription in the apartheid era. He discovers love and individuality in an environment fuelled by uniformity and oppression. This pinnacle in South African cinema has been a darling of the film festivals it has been screened at and in which it has competed. Directed by Christiaan Olwagen, who brought us the brilliant Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie, it stars comedian Schalk Bezuidenhout in the lead role, as well as Hannes Otto, Jacques Bessenger, Gerard Rudolf and Beer Adriaanse. It is currently running in local cinemas. A must-see on the big screen.

Mayfair

When his overbearing father falters in this gripping crime-drama, an estranged son must break the conventions and laws to ultimately save his family and their empire of illegitimate business dealings. This film had a substantial festival run overseas, and its local commercial cinema release was on 2 November. It has received positive reviews from critics and audiences alike. The film did especially well at the Australian Independent Film Festival where it competed as a semi-finalist for Best Film. It stars South African acting maestro Jack Devnarain, as well as Wayne van Rooyen and Ronak Patani. Mayfair is directed by the much-respected Sara Blecher and written by Neil McCarthy.

High Fantasy

A group of culturally diverse friends on a camping trip, discover they have all swapped bodies. Stranded in the wilderness, their respective cultural experiences are weighed against their friendship when they have to navigate this personal-political landscape. This comedy-drama about the Rainbow Nation is directed by Jenna Cato Bass and stars Qondiswa James, Nala Khumalo, Francesca Varrie Michel and Liza Scholtz. The film was entirely filmed on an Iphone 7. It had a highly praised series of screenings at festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival and the Durban International Film Festival. An announcement was made in late October that the film will hit selected local cinemas on 16 November.

Fiela se Kind

The re-adaptation of the much-loved Dalene Mathee classic South African novel. The book was originally adapted by legendary actress and filmmaker, Katinka Heyns, back in 1988, and has come to be a famous and revered film in the South African cinema canon. Pressure and expectations aside, the reimagining of it could be quite brilliant and beneficial to current and future audiences. The film has recently wrapped filming on location and is currently in post-production. It will seemingly only reach audiences some or other time next year. It tells the story of Fiela, a coloured woman in the Karoo, who takes in a lost white child and raises him as her own. The child is later taken away by force to be raised by a family of woodcutters in the Knysna Forest who believe him to be theirs. This time around, the adaptation is directed by Brett Michael-Innes, whose previous feature was the criticially acclaimed Sink. No other details are available currently.

Sew The Winter To My Skin

This film is South Africa’s official entry into next year’s Academy Awards Foreign Language Film category. In rural 1950s South Africa, a liberal journalist recounts the tale of John Kepe, a Xhosa rebel outlaw and hero, a local Robin Hood who was a threat to the colonial farming community, but a champion to the disenchanted. This is the second feature directed by Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, who brought us Of Good Report in 2013. This is certainly one of the most exciting films to come from our shores in recent times. During its wide festival screening campaign, critics and audiences were enthralled by the blunt force trauma of this small story within a big film. It had a limited cinema release in September, but no word yet whether it will have a wider commercial release as we get closer to the nominations for Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards.

Honourable Mentions of Current and Upcoming South African Films:

Cut-Out Girls, The Last Victims, Poppie Nongena, Captive (Ko nkanga), Dominee Tienie, The Furnace, and The Story of Racheltjie de Beer.

by David C. Steyn