This year, the Cannes Film Festival (17 to 28 May) celebrates its 70th Anniversary. Almost as usual, there were no African films in the Official Selection but few in the parallel sections, at the Film Market and at the development stage. Screen Africa reports…
This year, two African films were competing in the Un Certain Regard section: Karim Moussaoui’s Until the Birds Return (Algeria) and Kaouther Ben Hania’s Beauty and the Dogs (Tunisia). Another one, Rungano Nyoni’s I Am Not a Witch (Zambia) was also premiered at the Director’s Fortnight. At the Critic’s Week, a French documentary set in DRC, Makala by Emmanuel Gras, won the 2017 Grand Prix.
Until the Birds Return, a French-Algerian-German co-production set in Algiers, the Aurès, Biskra, Chelghoum El Aïd, and I Am Not a Witch, a UK-French-Zambian-German co-production set in Zambia, were competing for the Camera d’Or. The acclaimed Egyptian director Mohamed Diab, (Clash, Cannes 2016) also took part in the 2017 Un Certain Regard Jury.
In his slow-tempo first feature, Karim Moussaoui – known for his brilliant Cesar nominated middle-length film Les jours d’avant – depicts three characters (Mohamed Djouhri, Hania Ammar, Hassan Khachach) that seek to reach happiness in Algeria. Each character crosses the path of the previous one and leads the audience into another life.
In her graphic first feature, Rungano Nyoni – BAFTA winner with The List in 2009 – recounts the life of a witch child inside a Zambian witch camp. Inspired by the absurd tone of Djibril Diop Mamberty’s Hyenas and Ghanaian funeral processions (well depicted by Akosua Adoma Owusu in her short Kwaku Ananse), the depiction of the fight for freedom of a silent child made by Nyoni is supported by stunning cinematography from David Gallego and a powerful lead character (Maggie Mulubwa): “My husband took a picture of a child and I thought ‘Yes, she is the one’. When we came back to Lusaka with funds, we started the casting again. Then I thought about this child. With just a picture sent to the chiefs, they found her uncle in one week,” explains Rungano Nyoni.
Kaouther Ben Hania’s second feature, Beauty and the Dogs is a Tunisian-French-Swedish-Norwegian-Lebanese-Qatari-Swiss co-production, adapted from Meriem Ben Mohamed’s testimony, Guilty to Have Been Raped (Michel Lafon ed., 2013) and set in Tunis. In this one-night story cut in chapters, a young lady (Mariam Al Ferjani) is raped and has to fight with the diktat of the institutions, from the hospital employees to the police station officers. “For them, it’s just another day at work. They see victims like Mariam every night. The difference between those two attitudes, that of personal tragedy and the insensitivity of institutions, define the tone of the film,” states Ben Hania.
In the market
Even if attending Cannes has a huge cost, this is the greatest opportunity to deal contracts and find foreign partners for a film professional.
As usual, South Africa welcomed worldwide film professionals in its Pavilion set on the Riviera, amongst four other countries (Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia). On 24 May, Nico Dekker presented the internationally esteemed Cape Town Film Studios. The NFVF Council chairman Philip Molefe, reminded guests: “We must tell our stories otherwise people will tell them for us”. To a round of applause, the Deputy Minister of the Presidency Buti Manamela announced: “We believe in the future of film and the economy of Arts and Culture in South Africa”.
South African fictions and non-fictions were also presented at Cannes Film Market, some of them having screenings including She is King by Gersh Kgamedi, Asinamali by Gordon Lindsay and Zulu Wedding by Lineo Sekeleoane.
In addition to the official selections and the film market is the possibility to pitch a project to various worldwide film professionals. L’Atelier – run by the Cannes Film Festival’s Cinéfondation and La Fabrique Les Cinémas du Monde – organised by the French Institute, offers this opportunity every year.
At the Cinéfondation’s L’Atelier (where Algerian filmmaker Amin Sidi-Boumediene was selected last year), South African Jamil XT Qubeka was one of the 15 lucky directors to be selected. His second feature film project, a 90-minute fiction to be shot in the Eastern Cape in early September 2017, Sew the Winter to My Skin, is co-produced by Yellow Burn Entertainment (a joint venture between Spier Films, Layla Swart and Jamil XT Qubeka) and Arizona Productions (France). This “poetic chronicling of the escapades, arrest and trial of the Robin Hood-esque man of the mountain who managed to steal from farmers and elude capture for years during the 1950’s in South Africa” is looking for E600 000 and a sales agent with MD. “It was well organized, really nice meetings, quite a few sales agent, distributors and producers”, testifies producer Michael Auffret.
At La Fabrique Les Cinémas du Monde (where South African John Trengove was selected in 2014 with The Wound), four African projects were in the spotlight: Wim Steytler’s The Sovereign (South Africa), Hala Lofty’s The Bridge (Egypt), Andrey S. Diarra’s Renaissance (Mali) and Amirah Tadjin’s Hawa Hawaii. Three of the four projects came from Africa-based Labs: Renaissance was presented at the Ouaga Film Lab organised by Generation Films (Burkina Faso), The Sovereign and Hawa Hawaii were written through the Realness Residency launched by Urucu Media (South Africa) in 2016.
“We got the La Fabrique Award at the Realness Residency”, recounts Wim Steytler who is looking for E740 000, co-producers but also sales agents, TV broadcasters and distributors for his first feature about an ostracised South African and a mesmerising French couple – based on a true story. “We were also chosen for the EAVE workshop. You go to Europe four times and your project is packaged for the market. You got a mentor from the best of the business so it is a great place to make your film ready”. Awarded Best Director at the 2015 Silwerskerm Film Festival in Cape Town for his first narrative short Skewe Reënboog, Wim Steytler has been selected for the 2017 Durban FilmMart.
Let’s see in few years if Jamil XT Qubeka and Wim Steytler will have the opportunity to walk the red carpet and represent the South Africa at Cannes…