Durban Film Festival: Opening Night – Elelwani

By P Blood

Opening night of the Durban Film Festival was marked by… well, some boring speeches, a rather good film and then a bunch of minor celebrities, media hacks and wanky film industry types, shamelessly gorging on canapés, little chicken kebabs and enough free booze to drown everyone in.

With events that draw a crowd that size, it’s not uncommon for them to ask you to arrive early. This time it was an hour early, which could be seedy considering the event was at a casino. Maybe I just know too many seedy characters that hang around aimlessly at casinos getting up to no good.

Thankfully, I had a far more attractive girl than I should be allowed to hang out with to look at over drinks, instead of getting up to any unsavoriness. Yeah, that’s just me bragging. My company for the evening doesn’t pertain to the night’s events at all. Well, it did – but those details are for another blog.

There is this opinion when it comes to locally produced entertainment, that it is allowed to be mediocre or sub-standard, because it’s South African. I hate that. I don’t believe the “local is lekker” ethos either. Our country’s movies and music should be able to hold up under the same light as we view international entertainment. It’s the only way for the standards to rise. So, when I walked out of the cinema blurry eyed and stiff to overhear some toss with thick rimmed glasses say, “That was really good for a South African film”, I wanted to trip him on the steps.

I briefly wrote about the opening film, Elelwani a few weeks ago, but all the information had come from press releases and write ups promoting the film. They undersold the film, in my opinion.

Sure it had being the first Venda film ever, based on the first Venda novel ever to punt it, but they did neglect to mention that it is a fair piece of artsy cinema. They also failed to mention that this was a film that took 10 years to finally get made and on screens. A decade of work and passion had gone into making something that will become an important milestone in South African cinema history.

The first half of the film dealt almost exclusively with ties to tradition and culture, and how at odds they are to modernity and Western thinking and the opportunities that it can provide. Elelwani is eventually forced to make a hard decision, but ultimately only to protect her younger sister, in the hopes that she won’t have to make the same decision when she is older.

The second half of the film starts to mix in more magical and mythical elements, which really only serve to give yet more insight in to the Venda peoples’ cultural beliefs about life, death and sovereignty of their land. This film is a window into Venda culture.

Ashamed as I am to admit it, I know very little about my countrymen, and was caught off guard by some of their traditions. This includes the newer traditions adopted from Christianity (which I had seen, but with the added subtitles made more sense), even if I still don’t completely understand them. Religion, to me, is unfathomable.

As much as it is a cultural expose, it really is a brilliantly told story, beautifully shot, with solid performances from the key characters. A couple of unexpected plot developments and one or two rather well conceived twists make the film a joy to sit through.

After the film, the two leads, director and producer were applauded on stage. The director was a man of few words, but the few he offered just proved he was as brilliant as you’d have thought after seeing his film. Hopefully, he won’t follow through with what he said and retire from making films just yet.



P Blood

Suffering from an inexplicably large ego and ignoring common courtesy, Mr P. Blood indulges his opinions about whatever comes to his cesspool of a mind, and strangely people don’t seem to hate him for it. Making him a writer, of sorts.


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