This year’s AFDA Graduation Film Festival 2019 in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and Port Elizabeth was characterised by short films exploring afro-centric themes around abuse, gender, land, racism, rape and sexuality.
Every year, the graduation festival delves into contentious issues that are pertinent and relevant to the youth of today.
The number of productions that emanate from AFDA make it a veritable production studio and fiercely competitive for students wanting to get the edge. Walking into a job with a strong portfolio of work to leverage makes it easy to see how so many alumni are making waves at home and abroad.
While he was not well enough to attend the ceremony and present the Critic’s Awards, Spling had this to say about this year’s festival as relayed by fellow panelist, Andrew Germishuys.
“Congratulations 2019 graduates on a strong year for film and TV productions. Every production had merit, grappling with contentious issues and presenting content with great restraint. It’s so tempting to be provocative, especially when you’re young and wanting to make a big splash. However, it’s often the nuanced and thought-provoking approach that ripples outward to make a longer-lasting statement.
While the general standard of AFDA student film and TV productions seems to improve with each year, this year’s batch was all the more impressive for working within their means, improving overall production value, tackling a wide spectrum of afro-centric ideas and showing a marked maturity.
The work was of such a high standard that it would be dangerous to hazard a guess as to who came out on top in the Critic’s Award category. I’m sorry I can’t be here in person to celebrate your achievements with you, but know that you can be very proud. Good luck with your future endeavors!”
Serving on the critics panel for the fifth year running, Spling has made it something of a tradition to review his top five short films from the Cape Town leg of the festival.
Centring on the fishing community of Hangberg in Hout Bay, this social mystery drama follows a fisherman who is haunted by a tragic event during an illegal late night fishing expedition. Republik’s elegant opening title sequence makes way for a melancholic and beautifully composed short film, possibly inspired by the grounded blue tones of Manchester by the Sea.
Featuring a strong lead performance from Jordon Williams, good casting and authentic scripting, Republik has substance and a real sense of place. Having researched and experienced the fishing community, the themes and translation to film seems more natural as writer-director Juliet Yates and her team create a gritty and soulful mystery drama with social impact. From deep sea free dives to running on the pier, there’s an unexpected majesty to this place of trawlers and men of the ocean.
Timela is a drama about two men who come across a drunk woman who needs their help late one night in the suburbs. Leaning on profiling prejudices and the narratives we reinforce, Timela serves as a timely and reflective short film and parable, defying stereotypes for a challenging, nuanced, textured and thought-provoking drama. Exploring themes relating to gender, place and race, co-writer and director Walter Mzengi gently picks at big issues with a heightened sensitivity.
Starring Thapelo Maropefela and Ntlanhla Morgan-Kutu, the two deliver well-balanced and charming performances that capture the spirit of altruism with terms and conditions. Riffing off each other’s divergent concerns, there’s a smart tension at play as the two try to do “the right thing”. Elegantly composed, Timela has a sense of reality without losing artistic merit, making this cinematic short film look effortless. Ending on a frayed and haunting note, it leaves the audience on a precipice.
You, Me and Everything In Between
You, Me and Everything In Between is a period political drama set in 1970s South Africa. The story follows Babalwa, a 23-year-old anti-apartheid activist who comes to blows with her childhood friend, Sipho, following the disappearance of fellow activist and former teacher, Siphokazi. This spirited short film production is immersive, transplanting the audience in Babalwa’s world through authentic styling, wardrobe and production design.
It’s impassioned, well-acted and employs powerful themes revolving around a woman’s struggle. Serving as a commentary on ’70s gender issues, which remain just as contentious today, this fierce coming-of-age short film captures the Zeitgeist and feel of the ’70s with authentic production elements and an apt soundtrack. While writer-director Esther Jo Mbulawa has a firm grasp of her vision for You, Me and Everything In Between, the short film’s highlight is Thabang Mashiane, who delivers a commanding lead performance.
Oriel is a drama turned thriller about racial tension and inequality in South Africa. Taken from a child’s perspective, writer-director Christy Morley has crafted a tale about an innocent’s traumatic experience of a shooting on a farm. Filmed in black-and-white, the bold decision has a number of metaphorical implications in a situation where everything isn’t black and white. An ensemble cast effort, Morley does well to keep the action moving along at a good pace, able to condense some heavy themes and insights into the short film’s running time.
Taking on the challenge to work with children and able to access some great textured locations, Oriel seems like an excerpt from a larger work. There’s an underlying poetry to this visceral short film, which moves with grace and purpose. Honest, intense and powerfully presented, Oriel is a well-rounded, important and moving short film.
Rugby is a curious sport and departure point for Hand Off, a short film about a young player’s sexual awakening. While the trailer only hints at it with a single shot, this is a bold and unusual coming-of-age drama that ventures into the realm of fantasy. Exploring change room homophobia, schoolyard prejudices and bullying, Hand Off is both original and intrepid in its exploration of a traditionally toxic and hyper masculine-sports culture.
Andahr Cotton delivers a captivating lead performance, supported by a concerned Arno Horn and angelic Aidan Scott. Writer-director Chadlee Skrikker takes some bold risks and while some don’t quite pay off as expected, Hand Off remains intriguing, well-crafted, thoughtful and entertaining. Strong performances, excellent locations, silky cinematography and effective editing help cement the disparate worlds, making the contrast colourful, fascinating and enchanting.
Other strong contenders from this year’s festival: character portrait Benjamin, coming-of-age drama Confessions, comedy caper Danny the Robot, provocative drama In Sight, social drama Our Land, horror fantasy Taming Kara and psychological thriller Welcome.