Oh man, it was such a joy being on the jury for the South African edition of the 10th Shnit Short Film Festival in October last year with legend Dr John Kani, cinematographer Gaopie Kabe and director Kagiso Lediga (whose Queen Sono is debuting on Netflix 28 February 2020).
The films were wonderful; from the experimental documentary Fall into the Sky by Akuol de Mabior and Christen Torres that used poetry and spoken word to explore ideas of identity, alienation and belonging for women of colour in this country, to Vossie Vergas Homself (Vossie Gases Himself), a singular delight about a man trying to commit suicide and the motivational-tape-listening powerwalker who comes across his car and interrupts him.
Billy Monk – Shot in the Dark by Craig Cameron-Mackintosh was a fascinating documentary about a chronicler of Cape Town’s underground nightlife in the 60s and Tales From A Dry City by Francois Vester and Simon Wood captured the anxieties of Cape Town’s water crisis.
Fifty percent of the films were by women filmmakers this time around and one of the most outstanding for me was Bongi Ndaba’s Miracle (which was a hot contendor for winning film over all), a portrait of quiet desperation of a mother taking her crippled daughter from one faith healer to another hoping for the miracle of the title. It was beautiful and devastating. It reminded me of the Oscar-winning Iranian film, Children of Heaven and I can’t wait to see what Ms Ndaba makes next. She’s a fierce talent.
It was such a pleasure to debate the merits of all the films with the other jury members and even more so to hang out with Dr John Kani and Kagiso Lediga and talk filmmaking and storytelling and intersectional feminism for the special panel event we did before the awards were handed out.
I got to tell Dr John about the first time I met him, when I was a fifteen-year-old drama student and he showed up at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg in the early 90s to watch someone else’s play, wearing something that was so subversive at the time; a white t-shirt covered in the word “Fuck”.
Of course that’s probably the least subversive thing about Dr John who has been a lifelong activist, storyteller and Tony-award-winning actor appearing as the eponymous Sizwe in Sizwe Banzi Is Dead (with South Africa’s secret police, the Special Branch, in the audience) through to playing King of Wakanda in Black Panther (and introducing isiXhosa as the official language of that fictional African country).
He’s a goddamn legend and it was such a privilege to hang out and share the stage with him as he held the audience rapt with stories about winning his first Tony and the announcer mangling his name to being asked by the ANC in exile to not star in an anti-black propaganda film in the 80s and the political responsibilities of the artist, especially during the struggle.
We all voted on best film and then were able to give special prizes in our areas of expertise. For me that was best script and although Vossie Vergas Homself and Miracle got special mentions, I awarded it to a delightfully weird and funny pseudo-documentary about the pirate camcopy king of Cape Town and the copyright police tracking him down, Camcopy, written and directed by Rob Smith.
The winners in all categories are:
Best Film: The Letter Reader by Sibusiso Khuzwayo
Best Performance: Bongi Ndaba in Miracle.
Best Script: Camcopy by Rob Smith
Best Directing: Axis Mundi by Sean Steinberg and Matthew Jankes
Best Cinematography: Christian Denslow for The Bull by Kelsey Egan.