There are two singular African films making a world premiere at the 76th Venice Film Festival this week, an indication that they are some of the best in the world.
Lesotho director Lemohang Mosese’s This is Not a Burial; It’s a Resurrection sees a grandmother lead her community to fight forced resettlement, while Moffie by celebrated local director Oliver Hermanus explores gay white men in the army during apartheid.
The Fugard theatre founder and Moffie producer Eric Abraham says the film “tells the little-known story of how the apartheid regime shamed and cauterised gay conscripts, militarised a whole generation of white boys through mandatory conscription, most of whom do not speak of this time in their lives”.
This is Not a Burial; It’s a Resurrection tells the story of an 80-year-old widow who winds up her earthly affairs, makes arrangements for her burial and prepares to die. But when her village is threatened with forced resettlement due to the construction of a reservoir, she finds a new will to live and ignites a collective spirit of defiance within her community.
Hermanus, the director behind Skoonheid (2011) – in this author’s humble opinion the best South African film ever made – was also recently selected for Best Film Competition at the London International Film Festival happening from October 2 to 13. The category is limited to 10 international films and is described as “celebrating the highest creative achievements of British and international film makers, applauding extraordinary storytelling and inventive film making”.
Said Tricia Tuttle, director of the BFI London Film Festival: “Moffie is crisp and confident film making, detailing the dehumanising brutality of conscripted military service in apartheid-era South Africa.”
But all has not been celebratory for the world’s oldest film festival this year, which started on Wednesday. According to Reuters, it was heavily criticised for a slate that included only two women directors among 21 in the running for the Golden Lion prize, as well as for the inclusion in the competition of Roman Polanski, a director who pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Festival director Alberto Barbera responded to the criticism by telling Reuters: “I’m not a judge … I’m a film critic. When I see a film which is a really good one I don’t have any doubt to invite the film to the festival.”
Venice jury president Lucrecia Martel, on the other hand, insinuated in her opening press conference that she would not attend the film’s premiere because she did not want to “congratulate” Polanski or offend victims of sexual assault.
In response, Polanski’s producers threatened to pull the film.