A new isiXhosa film, a futuristic sci-fi action film titled Stillborn, opened the International BRICS Film Festival held in China during June 2017.
The International BRICS Film Festival is an annual showcase of films from the BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The 2017 festival ran from 20-27 June 2017 in Chengdu, southwest China. More than 30 new productions from established and up-and-coming BRICS filmmakers were screened.
A South African short film, the sci-fi drama Stillborn, written and directed by Jahmil XT Qubeka, opened the festival.
Qubeka contributed the film to the festival’s collective film presentation, “Where Has Time Gone?”, which featured short vignette films from BRICS filmmakers. The coproduction was the first of many for the festival, which showcased filmmakers in line for scholarships to the prestigious Beijing Film Academy.
Qubeka is one of the country’s new generation of exciting and distinctive filmmakers, having directed the controversial but critically acclaimed noir film Of Good Report in 2013 and the crime thriller A Small Town Called Descent in 2011. His films, while adhering to the archetypal Western filmmaking traditions, offer a unique South African perspective and mood.
The look and feel of Stillborn is no different.
Based on a concept of a futuristic robot obsessed with its human ancestry‚ Stillborn touches on African and science fiction storytelling tropes such as cultural identity and the relationship between humans and technology. The film was made entirely in isiXhosa.
Qubeka told the TimesLIVE news website before the film’s debut that it was the culmination of hard work and the bringing together of his Xhosa culture with his love of science fiction.
“I grew up watching sci-fi films and‚ of course‚ my heritage is Xhosa. If I reflect on Xhosa and African culture there is a lot of potential sci-fi elements that I can draw from‚” he said. Qubeka admitted that his story might have been a little far-out and “too creative” for the festival audience, adding that “maybe we were too ambitious… with the project‚ but it was really well received”.
The independently financed film was shot on location around Johannesburg, including at local mine shafts and the emblematic Orlando Towers.
Stillborn’s lead, Mandisa Nduna — familiar to local audiences for her roles in the e-tv series The Hustle and the 2014 film Between Friends — plays the conflicted android. She said the demanding film shoot, often at night and in cold and cramped spaces, took a toll on her physically, but that the end result was worth the discomfort.
She described the film as unlike anything she had done previously. “[Qubeka] told me that I should not look for any influence [on the character] but create her… from the ground up” and find something new to portraying a robot, with a true Africanness to it. “This was unique and I am so excited for audiences to see it‚” Nduna said.
Culture of nation collaboration at festival
The spirit of collaboration was very much the theme of the BRICS film festival, both creatively and economically.
Arts and Culture Deputy Minister Makhotso Sotyu led a South African delegation to the festival, and said that the creative exchange between BRICS nations was an integral part of the theme of its most recent summit: the deepening of partnerships for a brighter future. Congratulating Qubeka and other South African filmmakers at the festival, Sotyu said that “film is one of the few unique artistic tools of expression that play an important role in cultural exchanges, co-existence and tolerance”.
Festival jury member Xoliswa Sithole, a notable South African actress and director (Cry Freedom, Shouting Silent), also highlighted the need for the collective responsibility of BRICS nations to co-operate in art and culture. “We have a lot to share. China started trading with South Africa more than 1,000 years ago, so all what we are doing now is resuming the business.”
The next BRICS Film Festival will be held in South Africa in 2018.
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