Euzhan Palcy’s ‘A Dry White Season’ has SA premiere at DIFF on Mandela Day
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Tue, 21 Jul 2015 10:11
A Dry White Season film poster

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: To commemorate the internationally celebrated Mandela Day, which falls on the global hero’s birthday on 18 July, the Durban International Film Festival, in conjunction with major Hollywood studio MGM, held the South African premiere of the previously banned anti-apartheid film A Dry White Season (1989).
The screening was held in the presence of legendary female director, screenwriter and producer, Euzhan Palcy. On the day of the screening, an elated Palcy tweeted from her personal Twitter account, “#MandelaDay is today! Countdown before tonight’s historical screening of my restored film ADryWhiteSeason @DIFFest Tribute to #AndreBrinkPalcy.”

A native of the French Caribbean Island of Martinique, Palcy was the first black woman director to produce a film with a major Hollywood studio (MGM) in the eighties. Adapted from the novel of the same name by South African writer André Brink, who died in February this year, A Dry White Season, which stars big name Hollywood talents Marlon Brando, Donald Sutherland and Susan Sarandon, as well as South African actors Zakes Mokae, John Kani, Winston Ntshona and Janet Suzman, was banned in South Africa until 1990.

A Dry White Season, at the time that it was made, was a narrative exposé like no other, shedding light on the injustices and prejudices of the South African apartheid system. The film follows teacher Ben du Toit (Donald Sutherland) who turns a blind eye to the brutalities of apartheid until he discovers that the son of a gardener (Winston Ntshona) at his school has been killed by corrupt policeman Stolz (Jürgen Prochnow). Du Toit convinces human rights lawyer Ian McKenzie (Marlon Brando) to take on the case against Stolz. Du Toit’s involvement in the trial turns him into an advocate for justice, alienating him from his white friends and even his own family.

Palcy spent some time in South Africa undercover, during the apartheid era, to research the project. However, the government would never allow such a film to be produced in the country, so it was shot in Zimbabwe instead. In an interview with Indiewire film blog Shadow and Act – which focuses on cinema from the African Diaspora – in May this year, Palcy spoke candidly about the resistance she encountered from Hollywood as she set out to tell the story the way she knew it had to be told. “I developed it first with Warner Brothers and for them the book is about a white man, so what they wanted to do is make a movie about a white man,” Palcy explained.

“I told them, I brought the book to you not as a story of a white man but a story of two families, one black and one white, the story of the white man inside of his family system to show what happens to a white person when he sees the light of the truth and cannot turn a blind eye to it and pretend he doesn’t know. They are confronted with the truth, look what is happening, apartheid is destroying families,” she said.

Palcy finally approached MGM, who were able to see her vision for the film and agreed to produce A Dry White Season, making her the only black director – male or female – to successfully have a feature about apartheid produced during Nelson Mandela’s 27 year imprisonment.

“We are pleased to be able to present an important work created by a black woman, which highlights and even represents the lost voices of the people of this continent; the unspoken narratives and the untold stories,” commented DIFF Director, Pedro Pimenta. “Her courage to create a work which could stand out and give three dimensional life to Brink’s book, and by association the voiceless at the time, required an enormous amount of bravery. We are proud to be able to salute her at the DIFF this year.”

Also in attendance at the screening which took place at the SunCoast CineCentre in Durban on Mandela Day, were Brink’s wife Karina Brink and some of the original cast, including Janet Suzman and Thoko Ntshinga.

The 36th Durban International Film Festival runs from 16 to 26 July 2015, in Durban, South Africa.

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