The New South Africa Bans A Major Film Festival Entry as Protests Mount
By Danny Schechter
Durban, South Africa: It was Nelson Mandela's birthday, and the international day of service in his honor. The reports were that the man they call Madiba was recovering, according to upbeat accounts from his wife of 15 years and daughter Zindzi from his marriage to Winnie.
Happily, on that night, it was also a time of celebration as film fans packed into the annual opening of the film festival in Durban.
For 34 years, the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) has brought a world of cinema to the East coast of South Africa with an impressive range of films, filmmakers and related events. The screenings are often packed with over 150 films or more on display.
The Festival is organized by the Center for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, up on the big hill overlooking Durban. In recent years, its setting went from the academic to the commercial, from a mountain to a beach, with the opening this year, once again, based in cinemas at the Suncoast casino where it is attended by a multi-racial, and multi-generational crowd. For details on this year's program, visit their website at http://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za .
There was a lot of buzz about the opening feature film, Of Good Report. made by black South African filmmaker Jahmil XT Qubeka, (X.T. in some publications). The Mail and Guardian called it a "powerful and perfect piece about an obsessive predator."
It was a scheduled for its world premiere at Durban. It is made in African languages---in Xhosa and Sotho with English subtitles. The festival catalogue calls it a "hypnotic journey inside the mind of a mentally troubled man" that falls in love with one of his students, sensational perhaps but also all too common in township schools.
"It's a starkly gripping piece of work," writes Shaun De Waal in the M&G. "Qubeka has a very punchy storytelling style."
Neither the director nor the writers who praised it were aware of how the government's Film and Publication Board would punch back.
The screening was set to follow one of those endless thank you rituals that precede events that have to hustle for funding like this one did from government, private companies and the university, among many others. The Festival enjoys government support at the local, provincial and national level. It is one of the country's leading arts events
When show time arrived, the audience settled in to watch the opening movie.
But, then, to everyone's surprise, a statement instead of a film, flashed on the large screen.
It was an excerpt from a letter, just received that morning, from the government body that "classifies" films. (In the US, an industry organ, the Motion Picture Association (MPAA) handles movie ratings).
It read, "This film has been refused classification by the Film and Publication Board, in terms of the Film and Publications Act of 1996, unfortunately we may not legally screen the film, Of Good Report, as doing so would constitute a criminal offence."
It was later explained that said the movie could not be classified or shown because it had been found to feature child pornography, which is prohibited by law, along with movies glorifying war or promoting racism and hatred.