DURBAN'S Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World became the centre of all things glitz and glam last night as the whose who of the film industry gathered for the opening of the Durban International Film Festival.
The red carpet was rolled out to welcome celebrities, film makers, industry practitioners, political figures and social butterflies who donned their best designer threads for the event.
Now in its 35th year, the festival opened with the world premiere of Hard to Get, the feature film debut from South African filmmaker Zee Ntuli.
Prof. Cheryl Potgieter, head of the College of Humanities at the University of KZN (which is the home of the Centre for Creative Arts, which hosts the festival) said the festival is a major contributor to social cohesion.
"We believe social cohesion is critical in nation building. A festival like this is a significant contributor to (this in) the city and to nation building... the focus for this film festival is to celebrate 20 years of democracy in South Africa. This year's programme represents a generous spread of documentaries that celebrates and interrogates South Africa's progress over the last 20 years of democracy," she said.
Festival Manager, Peter Machen, said film is a remarkable agent of change. "It is both an expression of freedom and an enabler of it. There are people who say that art doesn't change anything... Film does change things, it changes us on a personal level and it changes the world too, even as the world changes around it. And it changes laws... Last year at this festival our opening night film was refused classification in terms of an archaic piece of legislation that was reformed in the wake of the controversy and which now acknowledges the nature of artistic representation more fully. So that law changed too. It's not the death penalty, but it is important."
In his address, AB Moosa of the Avalon Group recalled their defiance of the apartheid system when they commenced the Durban Film Festival at a time when films with black and white people interacting were not allowed in the country.
"I remember witnessing some of the challenges my father had to face, having to contend with the security police at the time, in terms of our family having being dispossessed of most of its cinema assets as a result of the fact that they defied the system - amongst which was the Durban Film Festival which showcased content for all people of all races in the movies.
"So when one takes stock of that, it is such a vindication and such a wonderful feeling to see as we sit together as the Rainbow Nation of South Africa, 20 years into our democracy... As we look ahead at the next 35 years and beyond, I want to convey a wish to all us lovers of cinema and the arts, that as we continue to make content which is commercial because that is important, it is the lifeblood of cinema... let us also not loose the opportunity in having platforms like this, and in having alternate content which showcases and identifies the injustices that continue throughout the world today..." said Moosa.
The festival runs until July 27 with over 250 screenings in nine venues across Durban - including 69 feature films and 60 documentaries.
The festival's principal screening venues are Suncoast Cinecentre, Ster Kinekor Musgrave, Cinema Nouveau – Gateway, Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, Ekhaya Multi-Arts Centre in KwaMashu, and the Tsogo Sun Elangeni Hotel.
Other venues include the Bay of Plenty Lawns, the KZNSA Gallery and the Luthuli Museum on the North Coast, which will have a special programme of screenings.
Tickets are available at the different venues with prices ranging from R25 to R40 (R50 for 3D screenings), except at Luthuli Museum, Ekhaya, Elangeni Hotel and Bay of Plenty lawns, which are free of charge. The Short Film programme at the KZNSA Gallery costs R25.