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Earth (Arts and Literature)

Sithengi

After missing out so often, I made sure to attend some of the films showing at the Cape Town World Cinema Festival (otherwise known as Sithengi).

I’ve seen four films so far, two shorts, and two feature films. Both shorts left me disappointed, especially Alive in JHB, a 6-minute piece about aliens landing in Johannesburg at the end of aprtheid. Perhaps it was trying to say something about xenophobia then and now, or perhaps not, but it missed the mark horribly as far as I’m concerned. The Mamtsotsi bird was better, a kind of horror about a husband who gets a sangoma to kill off his wife using a demonic bird (and much of the film features this bird chasing the screaming woman). Still, it left me dissatisfied.

The features were better. Darrat (Dry Season), was an Arabic/French film set at the end of the civil war in Chad. A man sets out to reap vengeance on his father’s killer, and ends up being befriended by the man and his wife. I’m often left confused by northern Sub-Saharan African films, and this was no exception. Not the plot, which was simple, but the emotional responses of the characters. It was slow-moving, which I can adapt to, but there was a kind of heaviness, a closedness, the characters unsmiling and deadly serious, so different to the Sub-Saharan Africa I know.

Best of all was the emotionally shattering, and extremely popular, Don’t Touch. If I gave a synopsis of the story it would probably seem cliched, with disaster following disaster, but I was profoundly affected by it. Perhaps it’s the novelty of seeing something so familiar in reality, but so foreign on screen. It’s the story of the breakup of a Muslim family in Cape Town, and the teenage daughter’s descent into the underworld. The friendships, family dynamics, and little touches felt real and familiar in a way a US film could never have achieved. They haven’t yet found a buyer, and the actors are apparently all still waiting to be paid, but I truly hope this film does manage to gain some traction. I want people to see this film as it shows a picture of how things are in the city I live.

The director was present to answer questions, but unfortunately the co-ordinator seemed a little uncomfortable with a crowd, and wrapped things up before a single question was asked, with most people still reeling from the film, and unable to verbalise any questions they may have had.

Sithengi is already half over – I hope I can get to see more.

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