SAFTAs 2023: The Best of South African Film?

The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) are just around the corner. The 17th annual awards ceremony of its kind to be hosted by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), it serves to honour creative excellence in the local film and television industry. Now that the nominations are finally in, it’s time to speculate about the shortlisted choices and snubs ahead of the awards ceremony in September.

Heist thriller Silverton Siege leads the pack with eleven SAFTA nominations across the board, including: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. With nine nominations, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor, Gaia is the second most nominated movie at the 2023 SAFTAs. Coming in third place in terms of film nominations is sprawling crime drama, Wild is the Wind, with six nominations.

In terms of other movie SAFTA nominations, Stiekyt and Indemnity tie for fourth with five nominations each. Dark comedy turned thriller Stiekyt was shortlisted as one of South Africa’s contenders for Best International Feature submission at the Academy Awards, the only film to make the SAFTAs cut from this shortlist besides Umbrella Man. Then, action thriller Indemnity also racked up five nominations.

In terms of snubs, one would hope that the hard-hitting visual masterpiece Time Spent with Cats is Never Wasted didn’t submit for contention this year. A bold, poetic and deeply affecting slow cinema experience, this ambitious and original black-and-white art epic is about as niche as it gets with a 3 hour running time but doesn’t factor into this year’s SAFTAs.

Then, the elevated and poetic horror Pou (Peacock) didn’t perform as well as one would expect. This may have been a result of being in competition with Gaia, which had a bigger splash and ripple effect on the international scene. Being a fairly niche genre in an “Oscars type” ceremony traditionally geared towards drama, horror is a hard sell but appears to be making gains in the wake of international calibre local films like Glasshouse and Fried Barry. Only managing to garner one nomination, coming-of-age music drama Mense van die Wind also didn’t seem to catch the wind with the voting panel.

It’s surprising to find a film as discordant and inconsistent as Wild is the Wind landing a Best Film, Best Director and Best Scriptwriting nomination. Even more curious is to find the sci-fi comedy misfire Office Invasion performing better than some of the more accomplished movies on offer. While Silverton Siege leads the film nominations, it’s mostly there on technical proficiency with the heist thriller looking the part but getting lost in no man’s land after a promising start. In truth, most of the Best Film nominees would qualify as style over substance nominations, geared towards look and feel.

What’s also surprising is how many films somehow managed to fly under the radar. As a movie critic who makes a point of watching as many South African films as possible for review, it seems bizarre to only be hearing about The Umbrella Man, Surviving Gaza and You’re My Favourite Place come SAFTA award nomination time. What’s also a shame is that more of these award-nominated films aren’t easily accessible to watch whether by way of video on demand or streaming. Other films in competition include: Amandla and Mhlungu Wam (Good Madam).

You can see the full list of SAFTA nominations.