In the face of a recession which has dramatically reduced sponsorship support, the organizers of the Tri Continental Film Festival report that they have still managed to pull off this year’s event with an impressive selection of documentaries from Africa and around the world. The festival runs from 1 – 20 October in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban.
Key supporters, namely the SABC and the Gauteng Film Commission, have been forced to withdraw support for the festival. Added to this, the demise of the public broadcaster, along with the growth of smaller less affluent channels, has resulted in a serious tightening on funding for documentary film, as well as fewer and fewer opportunities for the airing of pluralistic, diverse voices to mass audiences.
“And all of this at a time when we need these voices more than ever. In a period where South Africans face the clawing back of social reforms and find themselves fighting to defend hard won democratic freedoms, the role of independent documentary film cannot be underestimated,’ says Rehad Desai, one of the organizers of the festival.
“Perhaps this explains why 2010 has seen some urgent filmmaking in South Africa by a generation of talented filmmakers who have responded to the demise of traditional funding models with an array of independent films that are refreshing in their poignancy and desperately in search of serious platforms.
“It’s one thing getting these films made, and another ensuring they are seen by as many people as possible. This is the role of festivals such as Tri-Continental, with its aim of showcasing beautifully crafted and meaningful films to mass audiences, while hosting forums for debate and film education. This way we keep open the channels of communication between audiences for film, civil society, the media and the state,’ says Desai.
The festival has partnered with the Goethe-Institut in hosting a series of workshops in tandem with the festival in Johannesburg, aimed at filmmakers but open to the public.
South African films to be screened are Andy Spitz’s We Are Nowhere, an uncomfortable reminder that not enough has been done to address the causes of xenophobia and that the spark that lit the original flame still burns brightly; Arya Lalloo’s Citizen X, an unflinching portrait of civil unrest in the New South Africa, recently crowned the most unequal society in the world; David Forbe’s The Craddock Four, set in 1985, details one of Apartheid’s murkiest and most controversial assassinations; Odette Geldenhuys’ Here Be Dragons, tells the story of George Bizos, the man renowned for saving Nelson Mandela from the gallows, for the inquest into the death of Steve; Rehad Desai’s The Battle for Johannesburg, captures the changing face of Johannesburg while raising urgent questions about social investment, enduring poverty and alienated communities that refuse to live together.
This year the festival teams up with Greenpeace with a selection of films that highlight the inter-relationship between development, the environment and the survival of humanity itself.
Dirty Oil is a much anticipated feature documentary from Academy Award-Nominated director Leslie Iwerks and goes deep behind-the-scenes into the strip-mined world of Northern Alberta, Canada, where vast and toxic oil sands supply the US with the majority of its oil.
Sweet Crude is a journey of multilayered revelation and ever-deepening questions. Beginning with a small group of peaceful, intelligent protestors taking a stand against the devastating effects of the operations of foreign oil corporations in the region. Their protest slowly morphs into something more violent and militant as lives and the environment are increasingly put at risk for profit.
The festival teams up with Human Rights Watch with a Kenyan/USA documentary, Good Fortune, that details the politics of international aid as it effects the lives of two Kenyans, one in Nairobi, the other in the rural countryside. This gripping film shows how massive international efforts to alleviate poverty in Africa can undermine the very communities they aim to benefit.
A series of screenings this year will be dedicated to the fundamental democratic right of Freedom of Expression. These films include, An Independent Mind, a feature-length documentary that details increasing attacks on this cornerstone of democracy and the underpinning of any “free’ society; and American Radical, featuring American academic Norman Finkelstein, son of holocaust survivors and an ardent critic of Israel and US Mid-East policy, a deeply polarizing figure whose struggles arise from core questions about freedom, identity and nationhood.
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