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Timbuktu wins 35th Durban International Film Festival with its strong US line-up

The Timbuktu line-up at the Cannes Film Festival premiere.
The Timbuktu line-up at the Cannes Film Festival premiere.
Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Timbuktu from Malian master Abderrahmane Sissako, which recounts Timbuktu’s brief occupation by militant Islamic rebels, won the Best Feature Film category at the 35th Durban International Film Festival.

The jury commended the film for being impressively well made and and a film that “makes us aware, in an extraordinary and gentle human way, of the fight for dignity and freedom of individuals against oppression and violence.”

The filmmaker, against a human backdrop of a family and villagers trying to cope and survive, captures Islamist zealots as they ban everyday pleasures such as music and soccer, throwing themselves with cold relish into lashings and stoning for adultery.

The award for Best South African Feature Film went to Jenna Bass’ first feature Love the One You Love. The local jury stated that they chose the film “for its stylistic and narrative freshness”, calling it “a playful, quirky and idiosyncratic debut made with curiosity, warmth, heart and sensitivity.”

The accolade for Best Documentary went to Mahdi Fleifel’s A World Not Ours. Described by the jury as an “intimate, affecting and often humorous debut feature", it is a portrait of three generations of exile in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon, "a Palestinian pocket of hemmed-in buildings and stifled hopes".

Miners Shot Down, Rehad Desai’s devastating account of the Marikana massacre of mine-workers in South Africa by police won the Best South African Documental category. The film was also awarded the Amnesty International (Durban) Human Rights Award,

The 35th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) — where 20 years of democracy in South Africa is the 2014 theme — closed yesterday.

While South African and African films dominated the line-up, a strong US presence included representation by Spike Lee and Richard Linklater.

The Durban International Film Festival is Africa’s biggest film festival and South Africa’s longest running. Festival films from the United States or with US collaborations included:

Blood Ties, directed by Guillaume Canet (France, United States);

Boy Hood, directed by Richard Linklater (United States);

The Decline of the American Empire, directed by Denys Arcand (Canada);

Do the Right Thing, directed by Spike Lee;

Eden, directed by Elise DuRant (United States, Mexico);

The Immigrant, directed by: James Gray (United States);

Love is Strange, directed by Ira Sachs (United States);

Million Dollar Arm, directed by Craig Gillespie (United States);

Papilio Buddha, directed by Jayan K. Cherian (India, United States);

The Rover, directed by David Michod (Australia, United States);

Swim Little Fish Swim, directed by Lola Bessis and Ruben Amar (United States, France);

Wish I Was Here, directed by Zach Braff (United States).

Documentaries: The Kill Team, directed by Dan Krauss (United States); Life Itself, directed by Steve James (United States).

Wavescape surfing films: Intersection Black, directed by Taylor Steele (United States);
McConkey, directed by Rob Bruce, Scotty Gaffney, Murray Wais, Steve Winter and David Zieff (United States); Russia, directed by Chris Burkard (United States).

South Africa is in the process of growing and developing its film industry, inspired by the popularity and scope of Bollywood and Nollywood. Thus South Africa had the largest representation of movies in the 2014 line-up, with 40 feature-length films and 38 short films – many having their world premieres on Durban screens.

This year’s expanded South African documentary programme also included Khalo Matabane’s Nelson Mandela: The Myth and Me.

The 35th Durban International Film Festival ended yesterday.

Fly to South Africa with South African Airways, the national carrier. SAA flies to South Africa from Washington and New York. Or from San Francisco directly into Durban via Dubai with Emirates.

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