Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s film to open 40th Durban International Film Festival. Supplied

Africa’s biggest film festival has arrived and judging from all the excitement in the air, DIFF’s 40th year will be one for the books

Film-makers, directors, actors and movie lovers from around the globe gathered at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre as the 40th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) kicked off on Thursday. 

The milestone celebration will continue until July 28 and will see a total of 212 feature films, documentaries, short films, including the Wavescapes Surf Film Festival with 19 films focused on surfing and water culture. 

Media personality and business woman, Minnie Dlamini-Jones played host to the celebration. 

Opening the festival this year was "Knuckle City", a gritty raw film by Eastern Cape born writer and director, Jahmil X. T. Qubeka, who also recently directed the critically acclaimed "Sew The Winter To My Skin". It is Qubeka's second time being chosen to open the film festival. In 2013 his film Of Good Report was expected to open the festival. However it was banned by the Film and Publications Board and attendees could not watch the film.

"Knuckle City" stars Bongile Mantsai, Siv Ngesi and the late Nomhle Nkonyeni. It is co-produced and edited by award-winning Layla Swart of Yellowbone Entertainment, together with Mzansi Magic.

“I’m over the moon and deeply honoured that my film open the festival, especially its 40th edition. What a privilege! DIFF is very special to me on my journey as a film-maker, and it has been a platform where I have found both community and affirmation,” says Qubeka. 

The film got a standing ovation from audience at the end and Qubeka and Swart were praised for their brilliant effort.  

"Knuckle City" pays homage to Qubeka’s upbringing in Mdantsane.

The multi-layered narrative explored the story of a boxer on the streets on Mdantsane, his fight for survival and the triumph of love in all forms. 

“It’s a violent coming of age movie with the main emphasis being a journey towards self actualisation and manhood. It’s my fourth feature film, but my first film set in the area that raised me. It is an ode to my formative years,” said Qubeka. 

DIFF festival manager, Chipo Zhou who has been apart of DIFF for three years says the festival still brings the same amount of excitement to her as it did at the start. 

“40 consecutive years is indeed a great achievement by any standard and so to be a custodian of an institution such as this is a great honour. The focus this year is looking at films from the African continent, by Africans and African’s in the diaspora,” she said. 

She said each year the films in the festival gets better and better. 

"The creatives are pushing boundaries and I am always overwhelmed by the number of high quality submissions we receive. The programmers can attest to what a daunting task it is cutting down the selections," she said. 

Zhou also spoke of a Canadian focus on the line-up, where a few Canadian films have been packed to celebrate contemporary Canadian cinema with a special focus on films that flaw the margins of Canadian society. 

Dr Lliane Loots, acting director of the Centre for Creative Arts, University of KwaZulu-Natal said she was excited to see DIFF take a local approach this year.

“We’re committed to showcasing local film, we’re so happy to see that both the opening and closing films are South Africa. We’ve also signed the 50/50 by 20/20 global campaign which focuses on building women in film, not only on screens but behind the scenes too,” she said. 

* The Durban International Film Festival runs until July 28 with over 200 films to be shown in various venues across Durban. Visit www.durbanfilmfest.co.za for more information.