This year’s AFDA Graduation Film Festival 2022 switched back to an in-person festival at the Labia Theatre. Having adjudicated film online for the previous two years, it was refreshing to return to the historic cinema to experience the bustle of excitement of students watching their work on the big screen.
Serving on the critics panel since 2014, Spling has made it an annual tradition to review his favourite short films from the graduation festival, available to view via the AFDA student film website.
Waiting for Good Things
When it comes to honour, faith and tradition, longstanding cultural practices have their place but jeopardise freedom in the face of rising social pressures. Waiting for Good Things is the story of Ronnie, a 17-year-old Xhosa boy who is well on his way to becoming a man. Caught between the men who want him to undergo an initiation ceremony in the mountains and his faith and beliefs, he finds himself at a crossroads, forced to stay at home or make a decision that will define the rest of his life.
This brave, powerful and timely coming-of-age drama has a biographical undercurrent and centres on choice and freedom. Well-balanced, grounded yet topical, the subject matter’s seriousness is given due respect while representing divergent views. Cleverly juxtaposed between Ronnie’s two worlds, this authentic, heartfelt and precarious snapshot of a drama features solid performances and leverages a great deal of suspense as a critical turning point looms. A uniquely personal film for writer-director Lindokuhle Skosana.
Shalom Shalom is a timely slice-of-life drama from writer-director Josh Lerner that attempts to encapsulate the effects of anti-semitism from a South African Jewish perspective. This elegant short film captures a momentous interaction between two friends who work a night shift at a superette when a radio news report triggers a prejudiced response. Providing for his family in the wake of his father’s passing, Gabriel takes exception to Ismael’s ill-informed views.
Shalom Shalom opens with a moody montage that effectively contexualises Gabriel’s world as a proud Jew and responsible family man. Given its short running time, this artful exposition primes the audience for the superette showdown under the watchful eye of Omar. Dealing with a hot topic subject, the filmmakers sensitively address the slow creep of anti-semitism with a surprisingly mature piece of filmmaking. Through a solid performance from Sebastian Albertyn, film finesse and painstaking detail, Shalom Shalom offers authenticity and wonderful insights with a degree of cinematic poetry.
Film has the power to transport us but this immersion can be felt more acutely when we’re given the chance to live vicariously through someone else’s perspective. Writer-director Thabani Makanza effectively transplants audiences in a dire situation as a desperate mother tries to do everything in her power to save her daughter in Iyaloo. A nurse by day, she’s forced to make some snap decisions that will impact the rest of their days when she knocks a pedestrian over on her way to an important meeting.
Using onscreen text to show messages and cellphone screens, this compelling and suspenseful crime drama heightens tension as a critical meeting and an accident intersect. A see-sawing morality tale, Iyaloo speaks to desperate measures and what people are willing to do in the heat of the moment. Provocative, thought-provoking and riddled with twists-and-turns, this short film is smart, well-acted and elegantly constructed to effect a crushing realisation that lingers long after the credits.
When the Last Shell Falls
When the Last Shell Falls is a psychological war drama from Luc Coetzee that traces a young man’s memories of his fallen comrades. Revisiting the sites where his brother and friends were found, this emotional and haunting chronicle has impact value. Moving through the forest, Anton’s journey is one of healing in coming to terms with and memorialising lives lost.
Through beautifully composed cinematography, gripping performances, a great location and appropriate wardrobe that recalls the Bush War, this dramatic short film has a sprawling quality thanks to its open spaces and bird’s eye view. Using a letter writing concept with narration, When the Last Shell Falls has a curious nostalgia as Anton’s inner world is realised with vivid recreations. While the context of the warfare would have been better transplanted in a wilderness region, it still has power and resonance.
There Are No Angels
Centred on a small town in the Western Cape, There Are No Angels journeys with young Nicole, a defiant woman who takes matters into her own hands when she suspects her brother-in-law is harming her sister. A slow build, this coming-of-age drama contrasts the lives of two sisters in a small community. Married to a domineering man with mayoral prospects, things start to spiral out of control when Brenda starts to realise just how much of her personal freedom she’s sacrificed to keep Carlos in control and happy.
This vivid drama grapples with contemporary issues affecting women in South Africa, offering a window into a violent patriarchal culture. Essentially a portrait of the unravelling of a misogynist, There Are No Angels is an honest chronicle that speaks to social challenges without diminishing entertainment value. Building suspense and creating a rich political backdrop in its authentic world-building, There Are No Angels expertly wields its trio of characters, anchored by solid performances.
The Inexorable Killer
The Inexorable Killer is a post-apocalyptic action-adventure western that journeys with a lone vigilante and a young woman who he rescues from being killed by an android. Travelling to the city, they make a startling discovery only to be subverted by dangerous pursuants. Action takes ages to film, is difficult to choreograph and even trickier to effect. While The Inexorable Killer is a fairly clunky title, the smooth action set pieces are anything but… delivering hand-to-hand combat sequences that move with power and purpose.
Creating a vivid post-apocalyptic landscape, using choice locations and taking the time to immerse audiences in a world of humans and androids, The Inexorable Killer adds scale to its resourceful world-building, subverting the typical arid conditions associated with Mad Max. While entertaining, it’s most impressive moment is the ultimate showdown where martial arts skills from the multi-talented writer-director, Thinus van Schalkwyk are put to the test.
Then, to round off this year’s selection… two of the best films from AFDA Durban.
A soul-searching fantasy drama, a stranger encounters a rural community where two sisters reside in Winterslaap. This poetic slow cinema art film has a wistful tone, its setting and period possibly inspired by The Witch. Comprised of haunting images and swathing itself in enigmatic narration, writer-directors Daniel Howells and Leandros Brown give the impression of Winterslaap being an excerpt from a larger work.
Timeless yet rooted by its language, sharp casting and elegant cinematography steep this artwork in mood and meaning against the backdrop of a never-ending winter. As mist rolls in from the mountains, rich symbols and stoic performances create a place of anguish, suspicion and slow-burning tension.
The Establishing Shot
The Establishing Shot is a black-and-white comedy drama about a film production in disarray. Following their days as students, a director finds his cast and crew at odds with his creative vision and lacking the discipline required to pull together as a team. Using the backdrop of a school, this upbeat comedy gets to grips with the on-the-ground problem solving and human resource management behind filmmaking. Having experienced some of the disorder for themselves, writer-director Adam Le Cordier goes headlong into a similar scenario.
Screened in black-and-white, The Establishing Shot takes on an artistic edge – a stark contrast with the unprofessional and egotistical attitudes encountered on set. A fun and playful jaunt taken from the perspective of a director at his wit’s end and secretly covering the production costs, this student film is light enough to self-deprecate and ramps up the emotion with a stirring speech.