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Two Acclaimed South African Films Coming Home


Die Stropers (The Harvesters) and An Act Of Defiance aka Bram Fischer, two European/South African co-productions from Spier Films, will be premiering at this year’s Silwerskerm Fees in Cape Town. Having had a successful festival run, garnering critical acclaim and scooping a number of festival awards for their exploration of the Afrikaner identity, they're coming home.

Die Stropers, directed by Etienne Kallos and starring Juliana Venter and Morne Visser, received a standing ovation at this year’s 71st Cannes Film Festival as part of the Un Certain Regard selection. The atmospheric film is set in a white, conservative, patriarchal rural community in the eastern Free State. Two stepbrothers, a teenage misfit and a hardened orphan become embroiled in a power struggle for heritage and parental love.

The Harvesters

Kallos’ screenplay won the Gan Foundation’s 'Prix opening Shot Prize’ for best screenplay at Cannes and the Mahindra ‘Global Filmmaker Award’ at Sundance before the film even went into production. Kallos says he wanted to explore adolescence and tell a story about the first generation to be born completely outside of the Apartheid system, alienated and burdened by the weight of post-colonialism.

Spier's second film, An Act of Defiance, directed by Jean van de Velde and starring Peter Paul Muller and Antoinette Louw, is a rousing historical drama and political thriller based on the real events of the pivotal 1963 Rivonia Trial. While Nelson Mandela and his compatriots face charges of conspiracy to commit sabotage and treason, white Afrikaner lawyer Bram Fischer risks everything to defend and save them from the death penalty.

An Act of Defiance - Bram Fischer

Both films "have the potential for both critical and commercial success internationally and at home while remaining dedicated to fostering South Africa’s unique talent, stories and voices", according to Spier Films chief executive, Michael Auret.

 
David Cronenberg Discusses the Death of Cinema


David Cronenberg - the critically acclaimed Canadian director behind such brilliant dramas Crash, The Fly and Existenz - told a packed audience at the Neuchatel International Fantasy Film Festival in Switzerland that the death of cinema has already arrived. The 75-year-old auteur, who was participating as part of a Masterclass at the festival, talked at length about the growing powers of streaming sites like Netflix and the troubles of working in Hollywood. Discussing his growing disillusionment with the cinema experience,  Cronenberg said: "the big screen is shattering into a million small screens” and “film-making is not dead, but cinemas are no longer the cathedral where you commune with other people.”

David Cronenberg

Viewership habits

Cronenberg's statements come amidst growing turmoil plaguing the film industry. Directors such as Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino and Ridley Scott have all voiced their fears about the future decline of the art form. Whilst more and more people prefer to get their entertainment via platforms such as YouTube, Netflix and Hulu,  Cronenberg is adamant that this transformation is a positive one and should be embraced, saying, "cinema is changing, evolving as well." Netflix has become a global powerhouse in terms of its influence. Since starting out in 1997, it has gained more than 117 million subscribers across nearly every country in the world, amidst a backdrop of the lowest movie theatre attendance in the US and Canada since 1992, with 1.24 billion tickets sold in 2017.

Films like the documentary Jim and Andy, the Korean fantasy film Okja and even the Daniel Negreanu biopic, KidPoker, present a diverse portfolio of viewing and appeal to audiences who want to enjoy flicks at home instead of heading to the cinema.

On working with Netflix

Cronenberg told the audience that he has signalled his intentions of potentially working with Netflix in the future, comparing the act of working with Netflix to that of creating a novel. Of his potential endeavours with Netflix, Cronenberg said, "the cinematic equivalent of the novel is a Netflix series that goes on for maybe 5-7 years.... and that it is possible that instead of writing a novel I would do a series for Netflix." TV shows like Stranger Things, The Handmaid's Tale and Orange is the New Black have been lauded for their willingness to explore deeper character arcs and story lines over many episodes. Allowing directors like Cronenberg creative freedom on a scale not seen before.

It's also no surprise that Cronenberg might be headed to Netflix, at the very same Masterclass he openly discussed his struggles of working within Tinseltown and the system, even talking about his director friend Martin Scorsese who till this day still finds it hard to make movies in the Hollywood system.  Cronenberg's last film, 2014’s Maps To The Stars, perfectly encapsulated the director’s state of mind. A film that predated the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and presents a rather bleak vision of the industry.  Cronenberg's remarks remind us of the dramatic shift taking place in the cinema landscape, a place where for over a century billions of moviegoers would enjoy the sights and sounds of moving pictures. Now, only time will tell whether cinema will stick around or be replaced by the small screen.

 
Spling's Top 3 - Cape Union Mart's 'Adventure Film Challenge' 2018


The Adventure Film Challenge hosted and run by Cape Union Mart saw more than 50 short film submissions this year, about 300% up from 2017. In previous years, the film competition was open to amateur filmmakers only. This year, the Adventure Film Challenge opened to professional local filmmakers too, which saw a major improvement in the quality of the average short film. The winning short film receives R10,000 in cash, K-Way gear to the value of R5,000 and gets screened at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in Cape Town between 26 October and 4 November.

Adventure Film Challenge

The judging panel event at Cape Union Mart's head office in Cape Town, saw eleven of the best submissions being assessed by 20 judges handpicked from within the film industry and outdoor community, evaluated on a score sheet that covered various aspects of the film-making process including: writing, story, creativity, originality, cinematography, editing, sound design and authenticity.

From downhill skateboarding to whitewater canoeing, the adventure films covered a number of adventure sports. Moving from inspirational character portraits and manifestos to water conservation, there was a variety of short films ranging from inspirational biographical drama to lighthearted comedy. Some were short and sweet, checking in at two minutes while others pushed towards the maximum duration of 5 minutes.

Spling attended the judging event, having advised on the score sheet and gave the panel some tips on what to look out for in assessing the films. From the post-film discussion the panel presented a number of insightful points, offering incisive opinions on where the short films could have done better and praising the filmmakers who had done an outstanding job. The cinematography was generally good, taking full advantage of South Africa's beautiful locations with many filmmakers adopting a narration format. While some of the writing was cliched, the level of film-making was generally good. Several of the films had the subjects narrating their own films, which presented some problems in terms of how their voice-overs translated.

The storytelling was quite mixed with some stories failing to capture the audience's attention beyond the visuals. The filmmakers that created compelling and engaging stories made it easier for judges to forgive the technical glitches. Then, some of the short films struggled to follow-through... either feeling anti-climactic, pointless or not keeping story or genre focus. The sound also divided the good from great with some productions undervaluing the sound design component from foley work to the quality of the voice recording.

#1 THE LANDSCAPE HUNTER

The Landscape Hunter is a story about Thomas Ferreira, a photographer who has traveled the world looking for the perfect photo. Casey Crafford's beautifully photographed short film follows his journey in South Africa, adopting an otherworldliness as he traverses several landscapes in a drought-stricken Western Cape to uncover a lost remnant. A pulsating soundtrack and dust land horizons give the film a sci-fi quality... powered by enigmatic visuals and a curious narration moving from the character's quest to overarching concerns affecting the region.

#2 SHE IS SOMETHING FIERCE

Bouldering is an up-and-coming rock climbing sport, which is explored in greater detail in She is Something Fierce. Scaling difficult rock formations and artificial climbing walls without harnesses, this gritty short film follows dedicated boulderer, Zoe Duby, who narrates a story about her passion for the sport, the hard training involved and the nature of bouldering through footage of her in action. Covering a number of popular bouldering spots in and around the Cape Town region, this tough-as-nails woman literally gets to grips with the rigours and perseverance involved in a sleek introduction to the sport and a compelling character portrait.

#3 NICK

Nick is a character portrait of a young downhill skateboarder. Engaging, honest and disarmingly candid, the passionate and committed skater boy speaks of his dedication and love for skateboarding. From surgeries to scars, we learn of the dangers he's endured and his persistence to say true to himself. Nick talks about the sport, his gear and features some sleek footage of him in action across Cape Town. Nick's upfront style and natural charm carries the film, offering some funny remarks and inspiration to get involved!

 
Movie Review: Wimbledon - Men's Final (2018)


Wimbledon: Men's Final is the much-anticipated action thriller, directed by British auteur, James Keothavong. Winner of the Gold Badge Chair and having been at the helm of a number of big budget blockbuster productions in France, Australia and Argentina over the last 20 years, making Keothavong a perfect candidate for the director's chair. The sparsely scripted story follows Novak and Kevin, two aggressive mercenaries with years of elite training, whose bitter rivalry results in a showdown in London town.

Hailing from Serbia and South Africa respectively, the film revolves around a single location as the two take potshots at each other in an attempt to complete a do-or-die mission and scoop a massive contract pay out. Both armed with high tech gear and plenty of fire power, the sharpshooters find themselves trapped in a public space as a deadly shoot out scenario plays out with onlookers taking cover around them.

Novak Djokovic (Kissing) is a seasoned and award-winning performer, who has had a terrific run of form lately, after recovering from several injuries and some personal difficulties. Through eagle-eyed precision, he maintained composure and brought his A-game to round off an excellent performance. Despite some nerve-wracking moments and a few jitters when it came to overall consistency, his commitment to the craft eventually won the day.

Anderson, standing at 6.8 feet is no slouch and while his opening gambit was less than convincing, he made a remarkable recovery in the third act to save face and deliver a respectable performance that saw him stealing a number of scenes. Anderson's delivered several solid performances in recent memory, including a brilliant turn opposite screen legend, Roger Federer. While ultimately playing underdog to Djokovic, his co-lead performance was memorable and as a South African, his gutsy and long-suffering efforts will be etched on the minds of his fellow countrymen for years to come.

In terms of supporting performances, Wimbledon was a star-studded affair. While South African-born Federer deserved more screen time in the franchise, he delivered a surprising and noble performance, bowing out much earlier than expected like Steven Seagal in Executive Decision. Rafael Nadal, an equally strong actor, was fierce in his performance as we've come to expect, having played the lead in a number of multi-format productions. However, he was ultimately relegated to an antagonistic supporting role to the anti-hero, Djokovic in a prequel.

These kinds of sports films have become known for their cameos and Wimbledon: Men's Final is no different, featuring Prince William, Kate Middleton, Morne Morkel and a number of Swedish screen legends, including Stefan Edberg and Bjorn Borg. Keothavong obviously wanted to tip the hat to German Expressionism with his curious choice for Boris Becker to narrate. The choice was possibly inspired by Becker's esteemed career, which truly began opposite Kevin Curren, another player believed to be South African in a film of the same name in 1985.

The cinematography was quite pedestrian, using natural lighting and offering a few repetitive wide angle shots only to zoom in on the player's legs and footwear. You get the impression that the DOP has probably made thousands of these films before, adhering closely to formula or a rule book of sorts. Unfortunately, much of their performance was lost with long shots of the players backs and not enough close ups. The action shots were more assured, providing a number of great single takes from various angles. While the bullet-time seems old hat almost two decades since The Matrix, it was good to get closer to the powerful action sequences. In terms of the edit, Wimbledon: Men's Final was a mish-mash... moving from the co-leads to random extras intermittently and without warning. This broke the continuity, although offered some relief from the repetitive nature of their versus showdown.

The visual effects were a bit iffy at times with both co-leads questioning the director on several occasions during the third act. While some of the props look round, yellow and fuzzy at first glance, the visual effects made their markings seem oval and overly simplistic. Adding to the mess was the decision to try and blend the action cameras out of view using green screen effects. While covered in green, you can still clearly see the cameras and entire crew, demonstrating that this was a slapdash effort from a bunch of amateurs. While moody and pensive at times, the pacing was haphazard - moving from slow-motion to slower motion between shots only to resume live-action in real time - making it quite disorientating.

Wimbledon: Men's Final is standing on the shoulders of many similarly poised action thrillers that have come before it. To this end, Keothavong obviously wanted to own this thriller, trying to be as invisible as possible. His laissez-faire style with his actors, allowed Djokovic to start acting when he pleased without any shouts of "ACTION". The ball bouncing was a bit unconventional, but Djokovic made it his own - offering a very physical and hard-hitting performance. While sparsely scripted, the choice to include "quiet, please" from an off-screen voice made for a rather chilling atmosphere.

The sound design was equally disturbing with the sound of people murmuring, followed by loud clapping and cheers before a deafening silence. The soundtrack did include a number of popular jingles with waves of product placements, but thankfully these were short-lived. The most curious thing about Wimbledon was the foley work... as shot sound effects sounded more like pops and grunts. The effects make up wasn't much better with little to no blood in an action thriller that lasted over two hours!?

Shot entirely on location in the suburb of Wimbledon in London, the film has plenty of British charm... soaking up the ambiance against such iconic backdrops as the London Eye and Big Ben. From the pristine grass courts and chalk outlines to the lofty main court stands, there's a sense of decorum, steeped in years of tradition and floppy hats.

While there have been some outcries over whitewashing the ensemble, the leads were dressed predominantly in white... an interesting choice of camouflage by the bold designer, who obviously wanted the players to stand out against the various shades of green. Subtle touches like the crocodile on Djokovic's apparel, played into the rich symbolism, clearly demonstrating the predator and conversely the prey in this tightly-wound action thriller.

Overall, Wimbledon: Men's Final was carried by its powerful co-lead performances and a strong third act. The single location concept made it quite resourceful, allowing most of the budget to be dedicated to the stellar cast. The cinematography was mediocre, despite some lively and awe-inspiring action set pieces, which weren't helped by the erratic edit and abstract sound design. The cameos certainly added some spice to proceedings, but most of these performances were sub par, tight-lipped and wooden. While James Keothavong is an experienced director, his subtle and artistic approach to this minimalist blockbuster was indeed questionable, making Wimbledon: Men's Final a mixed bag at best with a few memorable moments.

 
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