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This year’s opening film for the Durban International Film Festival is the action- romance Hard to Get from first-time feature filmmaker, Zee Ntuli, writes Theresa Smith.
HARD to Get tells the story of TK (Pallance Dladla), a young womaniser from a small community who falls for a reckless young thief named Skiets (Thishiwe Ziqubu). Thrust into Joburg’s criminal underbelly, TK can only trust Skiets knows what she is doing and hang on for dear life.
At its heart the film is simply a story of two young South Africans falling in love, a universal theme, but it is set against a very specific and local context: “The criminal gauntlet parallels the emotional journey of TK and Skiets, providing a metaphor for how scary falling in love can be. Ultimately, it is a hopeful story, one which carries the message that love is worth fighting for,” said film director Zee Ntuli.
Ntuli is an Afda graduate whose 12-minute short In Return (Emasisweni) was put forward as the South African candidate for the Student Oscars in 2010.
The Joburg-based filmmaker’s 24-minute short film Bomlambo (Those of the Water) won the award for Best Fantasy Film at the 2011 New York International Film Festival and he has written for the award-winning show Intersexions as well has having worked on Soul City and the crime drama Mshika-Shika.
Hard to Get was shot in and around Joburg over five weeks: “We shot some of the Joburg CBD’s grittiest locations as well Brazzaville, a unique township on the outskirts of Pretoria,” said the 25-year-old.
The film was produced by Junaid Ahmed Productions, part of a slate of films they are working on which focus on previously marginalised black filmmakers.
Three years ago Junaid Ahmed and Helena Spring responded to a National Film and Video Foundation funding brief which offered substantial development funding for a slate of local films. The idea was to develop nine scripts over a three-year period, with the view to producing at least four.
In their proposal they emphasised two ideas that formed their core of their vision: “We were going to address two things: the critical lack of black producers, writers and directors in the industry and the issue of box office viability of South African films.
“So, while we were addressing transformation, we wanted to produce films in the popular genres like comedy, thrillers and sci-fi,” said Ahmed.
Once they were awarded the funding they put out a national call for film proposals and ended up wading through more than 250 project applications.
They were looking for film-makers with some degree of experience who needed help to make their first feature films.
Hard to Get is the first feature to complete the process and one of the first things they did was to attach a script editor to the project.
“That is often a problem, shooting a film quickly without getting the narrative right,” said Ahmed about South African films.
“With Zee, what was amazing was we saw in him an enormous talent.”
Ntuli and his scriptwriting team eventually settled on using draft number 15, though the majority of the final draft is significantly different to the original work.
While he or Springer made a point of being on the set every day of the shoot, Ahmed said the first thing they realised about Ntuli was that he had not only a plan A, but also a plan B just in case.
“He was not intimidated by the crew or the actors and from day one everyone felt he was assured and had a confident approach.
“I could see we were bringing in a director with a new visual sensibility and every day he got better,” said Ahmed.
Ntuli says storytelling is his first passion and he can’t really imagine doing anything else.
“I think there is little satisfac-tion in achieving easy tasks, the difficulty and constant challenges that film-making entails is what makes it such a stimulating and exciting profession. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to work in such a rewarding field, surrounded by such passionate and talented individuals,” said Ntuli.
With this Hard to Get project entering the actual screening phase, Junaid Ahmed Productions are already working on Happiness is a Four Letter Word, adapted from Cynthia Jele’s book about four black female friends living the fast live in Joburg. This project is being adapted by Busi Mtintili for Thabang Molewa to direct.
Then there’s also Keeping up with the Kandasamys in pre- production, and next year they start scripting another four projects, including a sci-fi and a musical set in KwaZulu-Natal.
With its more commercially appealing bent, Hard to Get may seem a less controversial film to open the 35th Durban International Film Festival (Diff) than last year’s initially banned Of Good Report. But festival manager Peter Machen says the film is no less a safe choice.
“Last year we chose the best and most appropriate film to open the festival and this year we have done the same. It’s not the same kind of film, but it is also provocative because it forces us to have a look at our society from the context of our personal relationship,” said Machen.
“More than anything, I just thought it was a brilliant film. Certainly the most appropriate one for opening night. It is a real celebration of South African talent, but it’s not in any sense parochial.”
Machen said they had a strong selection of local films to choose from, especially documentaries. This year they open the documentary part of Diff with Khalo Matabane’s Nelson Mandela: The Myth & Me.
“It asks a lot of uncomfortable and interesting questions that people are asking under their breath, that are now entering the public discourse,” he said about Matabane’s documentary.
Rehad Desai’s Miners Shot Down is also on the programme, despite the documentary currently being shown on the local circuit: “We wouldn’t normally show it, except it is such an incredibly important film,” explained Machen.
Hard to Get has also already been picked up for a local theatrical release on August 29.
It is a slow process, but Machen thinks distributors and audiences are slowly warming up to local content, and part of that lies in how Diff has helped to catalyse the local film industry, especially by providing a global showcase of African and South African content.
This year Diff will screen 35 South African documentaries and features, in addition to several short films. That means just more than a quarter of the films which will be screened are locally made.
• The Durban International Film Festival takes place from July 17 to 27 around various venues in Durban. The festival includes more than 200 theatrical film screenings, seminars, workshops, the Wavescape Film Festival, the Wild Talk Africa Film Festival and various film industry initiatives, including the seventh Talent Campus (in co-operation with the Berlin Talent Campus) and the fifth Durban FilmMart co-production market in partnership with the Durban Film Office. For more information check out www.durbanfilmfestival.co.za.