Sky’s the limit for SA’s filmmakers


Johannesburg - What are the most important new indie films coming out of South Africa right now?

If you ask the respected Toronto International Film Festival (Tiff), which kicks off in Canada on September 7, it’s The Number by Khalo Matabane, Five Fingers for Marseilles by Michael Matthews and High Fantasy by Jenna Bass.

These new local films have been kept mostly under wraps, but were exposed to the spotlight with Tiff world premiere announcements when the festival revealed the last of its schedule this week.

The festival that premiered the Oscar-winning Moonlight – and is this year hosting Lady Gaga and her new documentary – has always been a strong supporter of South African film and has picked out winners in the industry.

But what are the films about and what do they say about our stories?

The Number by Khalo Matabane

South African film is particularly known for its dark tales of apartheid and its violent (often Cape Flats-based) gangster flicks.

So Matabane’s latest offering – after the powerful documentary Nelson Mandela: The Myth & Me – is no surprise. What is a surprise is that a black film maker is at the helm, which is still a rarity.

Produced by Bornfree Media, The Number is a retelling of Jonny Steinberg’s controversial book about prison numbers gangs.

Matabane told City Press this week that, “after working hard, long hours on tight budgets and running up debts ... and sacrifices, its great to be acknowledged”.

He has reimagined the book’s tale of gang leader Magadien Wentzel, who was on set in Durban to help keep it real.

Wentzel says: “The Number is about a man who is searching for his humanity in a violent, corrupt and poverty-stricken landscape. The gangs are the backdrop. It was a gamble from the casting and filming.”


What is Matabane’s next dream project?

“I would like to make a hybrid film with beautiful action sequences, such as Kill Bill or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with a lead black female lesbian character going after mean men who stole her dream.”

Five Fingers for Marseilles by Michael Matthews

Matthews and writer-producer Sean Drummond have been developing this innovative crime thriller for years.

People were raving about its broody, dark, poetic trailer that was released this week. It features everyone’s favourite hunk Vuyo Dabula as Tau, who is on the run after killing two policemen.

A gritty Western-style crime thriller shot in the Eastern Cape against the mountains of Lesotho, Five Fingers is part of a new school – it’s heavily stylised and picks up the genre reference of Of Good Report.

It seems the Wild West is a strong metaphor for Mzansi because we can expect more of these kinds of films.

The folks at Tiff say this one blew them away with its production values and the sureness of its narrative.

Drummond said the film took seven years just to get into production:

“We were lucky enough to have amazing support from the townspeople of Lady Grey from the start ... Keeping the language mostly Sesotho, and not bringing in foreign actors, was very difficult on a financing level for a project with this much scope and scale.”

High Fantasy by Jenna Bass

Bass rocked into the spotlight three years ago when her quirky, romantic mystery film Love the One You Love started picking up awards.

A leader of the new wave in our cinema, Bass is the queen of the offbeat.

She shoots using whatever technology or method makes sense, and is able to turn out microbudget films faster than her peers.

She shot High Fantasy on iPhones and the cast all jammed their own characters and dialogue in a true collaboration.


The film’s story centres around four young South African friends on a camping trip who wake up to find they’ve swapped bodies.

Always original, Bass and her producer-in-arms David Horler-Blankfield were delighted about the Tiff news. Next up, they’re shooting Flatland, a feminist Karoo thriller.

Bass said: “I strongly believe that art – and cinema – has to respond to the environment that’s producing it.

"So, if young South Africans, and maybe even young people around the rest of the world, feel that it represents something they’re going through, I will be proud of the work we’ve done.

"The fact that the film has already been identified by the youth-driven Next Wave Committee at Tiff is very exciting for me.”


(Photos: Be Phat Motel Film Company/ Khalo Matabane/Twitter/Proper film/Facebook)

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