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Short Film Review: Saloon

Saloon is a dark western actioner from writer-director Dayakar Padayachee, produced by Simon Ratcliffe and Pelisha Somiah. Starring Kwenzo Ngcobo as a tough hitman, the short film explores one wild night as he follows up a bit of business with a drink at a nearby saloon. Five Fingers for Marseilles recently captured the world's imagination with an African western playing out against the picturesque Lady Grey in the Eastern Cape. Taking a similar edge and multi-cultural approach, Saloon is a more contemporary take on the Wild West, shot in Zulu against a dystopian futuristic South Africa.

Saloon Short Film

The short film is not short on style, using neon lights and plenty of swagger to capture a dark, moody back alley and sleazy bar scenario. Westerns are famous for their tense bar scenes and stand-offs, which is where Saloon takes aim, unpacking a lone gunslinger's mysterious and sacred mission. Ngcobo grapples with a character loosely modeled on the likes of Keanu Reeves and Clint Eastwood, operating with a sly, smooth and devil-may-care demeanor. Entering a dangerous situation with enemies around him, he stumbles onto his next hit only to draw his weapon and summon up a blaze of enemies.

Being a short film, Saloon does feel like an excerpt from a larger work. The story airdrops audiences in the deep end, feeding bits of the character's intention through his whirlwind action, cold attitude and destiny-orientated dialogue. Being geared around action there isn't all that much time for exposition and unfortunately the closing credits roll just as the film gets started. The rock 'n roll soundtrack energises things as the mood and lashings of style compel and intrigue. It's difficult to convey character in such a short space of time, which is why Saloon is fleeting.

Saloon Short Film

The set up works as it ends on an ellipsis but this Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid style climax is equally anti-climactic given the film's short lifespan. While gritty and dripping in mood and style, it's also insubstantial and momentary. Saloon shows great promise, building a world, displaying panache and carrying a consistent tone. As a taster it leaves you wanting more but doesn't feel like a complete expression of its potent story and brooding characters.

Celebrate Heritage Day with a Movie Night Festival

The next Bingeing with Spling watch party and movie night festival is happening tomorrow evening on Heritage Day, 24 September. Being South African, Spling is making it possible for people to celebrate their arts, culture and rich diversity from the comfort of their couch. Get your braai on, grab some popcorn, put drinks on ice and remember to charge your phone so that you can tweet along, track the conversation or join our WhatsApp chat room group.

The main feature is Beyond the River, based on the true story of unlikely dusi canoe marathon team, Piers Cruickshanks and Siseko Ntondini.

"Beyond the River is a stirring uniquely South African guts and glory underdog sports drama. It’s emotionally taut as we witness two men trying to dig themselves out of a rut through teamwork and perseverance. They're constantly breaking barriers, overcoming prejudices and inspiring others around them with the symbol of the river adding layers of meaning. It makes for compelling viewing to see the everyday battles playing out against the background of a much grander narrative for South Africa's future." ~ Stephen Aspeling, SPL!NG

The curtain-raiser is The Letter Reader, a SAFTA award-winning short directed by Sibusiso Khuzwayo about a Joburg boy who travels to the Drakensburg where he reads letters to rural villagers.

Both South African films are streaming on Showmax, where we're staging this month's watch party. Stay tuned to our socials and get ready to hit play at 7pm (GMT+2) for The Letter Reader and at 8pm (GMT+2) for Beyond the River.

Our special guest is Beyond the River's Lemogang Tsipa, a South African actor who's best known for Back of the Moon, Eye in the Sky and The Dark Tower, who's famous for his recurring TV roles in eKasi+ and Traffic!

To open the watch party and movie night festival, local muso ShenFM will be performing a special Heritage Day song. Having collaborated with Jimmy Dludlu, played for Mandela at his 90th birthday and competed on The Voice, he's a big-hearted South African with immense musical abilities.

As host and head film fanatic, Spling will be sharing fascinating movie trivia, running live-commentary on each film and getting people warmed up with some fun movie games on socials before the opening credits roll.

It's easy to participate. Subscribe to Showmax if you aren't already! Follow /SplingMovies on Facebook and Twitter, join the official Bingeing with Spling watch party group on Facebook, use the #BingeingWithSpling hashtag on Twitter or hop onto our new WhatsApp watch party chat room group.

To spice things up, we're giving participants a chance to win some amazing prizes including: 3x Showmax standard vouchers (3 months), 2x Showmax Pro vouchers (3 months) and 3x copies of the book 'Confluence' by Piers Cruickshanks. Check out our competition posts or simply comment with #BingeingWithSpling to stand a chance of winning a prize.

Being a celebration of movies, our heritage and our nation we're hoping to reach as many South Africans as possible!

Bingeing with Spling is a watch party event series and the "best movie night in... ever" according to one of our regulars. Being passionate about film, Spling wants to build a community of movie lovers (not fighters) who share in the magic of movies by doing movie night together. Picking a main feature, inviting special guests, hosting the event and highlighting special performances with a curtain-raiser short film... it's a celebration of everything film!

Softie Wins Best Documentary at DIFF

Softie has won Best Documentary at the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF). The Kenyan documentary by director Sam Soko, opened Hot Docs 2020, impressed at Sundance and won Best African documentary at the Encounters International South African Documentary Film Festival just weeks ago. Read more about what went into the making of Softie based on Soko's DFM interview with Wilfred Okiche.

Softie documentary

The film follows Boniface "Softie" Mwangi, a photographer turned political activist who has to try and figure out, which comes first between family and country. Originally intended to be a 5 minute YouTube video, the documentary morphed into a much broader picture taking over 5 years to capture. Filmed without a script it retains a pure documentary feel as more than 600 hours of footage were condensed into the 96 minute feature-length film running time.

In a heartfelt acceptance speech via video conference from Kenya, Soko said "Thank you so much to the Durban Film Festival for honoring us with this award. It’s a culmination of the love and support we’ve received from South Africa over the years. We pitched at Durban a few years ago, and met such incredible people who enriched our work as artists."

He went on to highlight five young Sudanese artists who were recently found guilty of charges of ‘public annoyance’ while rehearsing a play. This win means Softie automatically qualifies for consideration for nomination at the next Academy Awards, scheduled to take place in Los Angeles, California on April 25, 2021.

Durban Film Mart 2020: Interview with Teboho Edkins on 'Days of Cannibalism'

The virtual edition of the Durban Film Mart made it possible for people from across the continent to attend. Following closely on the heels of The Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival, which also presented itself in a virtual format, there was some cross-pollination particularly in the documentary section. Having watched all of the African documentaries at the Encounters festival, a series of special in-depth interviews with documentarians carried an organic appeal. Led by Nigerian film pundit, Wilfred Okiche, these discussions went deeper to uncover the director's motivations, behind-the-scenes stories and valuable details about the documentary film-making process.

Teboho Edkins is the writer-director behind the documentary Days of Cannibalism. The title may sound ominous but it's named after a local bar where the film takes place. Having lived in Lesotho, Edkins knows the culture and traditions, realising the current trend for Chinese-owned businesses to be buying up commercial space in the country. A country known for its tradition of shared wealth among cattle, there are parallels with the western genre as police, citizens and settlers find themselves in disarray and in a state of flux. The term cannibalism may not be as provocative as first anticipated, but it still represents the notion behind this surreal fly-on-the-wall documentary.

According to Edkins, he's representing themes around greed, globalisation, the "gold rush" and acts of cannibalism. The western vibration is strong in this film, echoing the recent African action drama thriller, Five Fingers for Marseilles. Days of Cannibalism has an unconventional narrative without any main players, using the environment to compel audiences. The western elements are there but this is more of a contemplative piece from a third person perspective, offering a number of pure documentary moments that are quite simply priceless. While these moments ring true, it was quite surprising to learn that Edkins was "controlling reality" at points with pure fiction too.

Discussing the finer points with Okiche, it becomes clear that the court room scene was fabricated. A critical juncture in the film, cementing the central dilemma, it's a powerful interaction that appears to have been filmed as it played out. However, as Edkins points out... it was done this way since the filmmakers were prohibited from shooting in a real court session. To accentuate the fictional sequence, they purposefully shot it with multiple cameras and traditional fictional framing. While a little earth-shattering for those who believe in the sanctity of pure documentary, it is still amazing how many real moments were captured in real-time... including the older man reprimanded his relation and the CCTV robbery.

Filmed over several years, it was mainly financed through France but received funding through multiple channels and dispensations. Taking a small crew to research, integrate and scout scenes... Edkins talks about the idea of creating the film 3 times: writing, filming and editing. Each process involves an overarching level of storytelling, allowing the evolution to take place and for the essence to unearth itself. After a screening in Berlin where some Chinese folk were in the audience, Edkins was surprised at their response and appreciative of their feedback with many citing his objectivity in his treatment of both sides. While Edkins is creating a politically-charged piece, he doesn't present his views at the expense of dehumanising or villifying the would-be aggressors. It's easy for Chinese to get visa, but not vice-versa. Delving into the fascinating first real encounter between both ancient cultures, it seems there's a documentary subject underlying the commercial investigation at play. Having had their views of each other's culture largely shaped by Western pop culture and stereotypes, it does seem to be a fresh opportunity for co-mingling and rediscovery.

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