NAF 2015: Cinephiles Unite For Film Programme

A scene from Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales
A scene from Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales

This feature was first published in Cape Times on 2 July 2015.

Steyn du Toit

While the current National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown is best known for its celebration of the multi-coloured umbrella that is the performing arts, the (relatively) warmer first few days have also delivered a film programme able to compete with the best. Curated by Trevor Steele Taylor, several interesting figures and themes have been identified.

Regarded as a major figure in Italian poetry, filmmaking and art, the cinematic achievements of Pier Paolo Pasolini is paid tribute to over the course of the week. Among his most celebrated films screened include The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), The Decameron (1970), The Canterbury Tales (1972) and Arabian Nights (1974).

It is Pasolini’s controversial 1975 feature, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, however, that most often pops up when referring to the controversial nature of the director’s work. Based on the Marquis de Sade’s infamous 1785 novel, 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinism, the film unflinchingly deals with (and depicts) matters of torture, humiliation, degradation, rape, murder and every other depraved topic in between.

Running alongside the Pasolini retrospective is a digital exhibition of Manfred Zylla’s 120 Days of Sodom, a series inspired by the film, as well as the writings of De Sade and Dante Alighieri. The exhibition was launched here in book format on Friday as well, thanks to a collaboration between Zylla and the Erdmann Contemporary in Cape Town.

German-born and South African-based Zylla himself is in attendance too, and will appear as part of a Think!Fest panel discussion on Tuesday (July 7). Titled Art and Resistance, during the conversation the artist and a group of his peers will examine the position of art as “a method of resistance to coercion by structures of state, religious, financial, censorial and corporate power.”

Another festival retrospective to go see should you find yourself in Grahamstown this week, and one that ties in with similar efforts on the Main theatre programme, relates to the satirical films of Pieter-Dirk Uys.

While tannie Evita Bezuidenhout will no doubt forever be his most memorable creation, the titles in this selection provide a great opportunity to experience his various other sides as an actor and comedian too. Among the films directed and/or starring The Divine Mrs. E’s alter-ego are Adapt or Dye (1982), Farce About Uys (183) as well as Skating on Thin Uys (1985).

Billed as an important freedom of speech initiative, Limits of Liberty is a resurrection of Liza Key’s former Weekly Mail & Guardian Film Festival offering. Now a component of this year’s NAF film programme, the segment sees several important films presented around issues relating to censorship and the freedom of the individual in today’s increasingly Orwellian world.

CitizenFour
CitizenFour

Winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Laura Poitras’ CitizenFour truly feels like a document of its time. Shot cinéma vérité style and presented as a series of frank, confessional interviews with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong in 2003 (only days before the National Security Agency spying scandal broke), this is what it feels like to watch history unfold in “real time.”

It’s great to see two South African films also screened as part of Limits of Liberty. Directed by Heinrich Dahms, Between the Devil and the Deep opens with an impressive scene of a lone diver seemingly taking on an entire ocean. A fitting metaphor for what is to follow, this gripping documentary follows several families from Hawston, a fishing community near Hermanus. Fracking, in turn, comes under the spotlight in Jolynn Minnaar’s Unearthed.

Between the devil and the deep

As usual Taylor, who celebrates his 17th year as curator, has grouped various other films together under interesting banner themes for the rest of the programme as well. The South, for instance, sees “a meeting between South American film artists and South Africa.”

Supported by various embassies, filmmaker Alvaro Brechner – whose films Mr. Kaplan and A Bad Day to Go Fishing were selected as Uruguay’s official submissions to the Academy Awards’ Foreign Language Film category in 2010 and 2015, respectively – are currently in attendance.

Brechner will be joined today (July 6) by his Argentinian counterpart, Pablo Cesar – known for films such as The Gods of the Water, Hunabku and The Sacred Family – for a meeting with last year’s Standard Bank Young Artist (SBYA) for Film, Jahmil XT Qubeka (Of Good Report). Together they will look at areas for collaboration between their various countries.

Another interesting theme chosen by Taylor this year sees classic films presented with new/alternative soundtracks and scores. Examples include FW Murnau’s silent classic, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, performed to a soundscape created by Jacob Israel and A Skyline on Fire; and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 black and white Vampyr, accompanied by an original live music composition by husband and wife team Jacob van der Westhuizen and Ola Kobak (appearing together as A Hollow in the Land), alongside Givan Lötz.

047-sunrise-theredlist

While previous years have had bigger offerings in terms of films on the NAF Fringe, this year sees only two items make the cut. The first, Double Bill I, comprises of Stephen Abbott’s 10-minute short Lazy Susan, Kyle Robinson’s Finding Graham’s Town (16 min) as well as the Robinson brothers’ Man on the Line, featuring well-known physical theatre performer Richard Antrobus.

Two longer short films by Siviwe Honobroke Mashiyi’s make up Double Bill II. They are Forgiveness, produced and shot without a budget, and Did She, Didn’t She?, the second film written and directed by this upcoming filmmaker.

The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) will once again present a series of workshops during NAF too. Among the free screenings presented as part of it include Zee Ntuli’s Hard to Get (Wednesday), Koos Roets’ Faan se Trein (Friday) and Rehad Desai’s Miners Shot Down (Friday).

l NAF runs until Sunday. For full show schedule and booking details, see www.nationalartsfestival.co.za and www.facebook.com/nationalartsfestival, or follow @artsfestival on Twitter.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

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NAF 2015: Cinephiles Unite For Film Programme

REVIEW: AN AUDIENCE WITH PIETER-DIRK EISH

Pieter-Dirk Uys
Pieter-Dirk Uys

This review was first published in Cape Times on 2 March 2015.

AN AUDIENCE WITH PIETER-DIRK EISH. Written and performed Pieter-Dirk Uys. At Theatre on the Bay, Camps Bay, Monday to Friday at 8pm, and Saturday at 5.30pm and 8pm until March 14. STEYN DU TOIT reviews.

“I am standing up here today because I used to sit down there,” Pieter-Dirk Uys tells us shortly after appearing on stage dressed in a plain black t-shirt and pair of pants.

Behind him an army of his most iconic characters from the past 50 years are stashed away inside an assortment of numbered boxes, bags and crates.

Cape minstrels, disreputable politicians and, of course, the one and only Divine Mrs. E; each one is poised and ready to pop out with a tale to tell.

Starting by relating to the audience why he originally chose to pursue a career in theatre, Uys’ story is an all too familiar one for those of us who were also exposed to the magic of live performance at an early age.

Not only is it the main reason I personally became an arts journalist, but returning to Artscape’s foyer’s steps as a child busy watching one of their holiday panto productions are one of my most cherished memories.

Effortlessly incorporating references to recent news events, parliamentary skylarking and even a bit of sexual innuendo into his dialogue, any young comedian committed to his craft should be sitting in the front row taking notes directly from Uys.

Loosely adopting the format of the old Springbok Radio programme Pick a Box, there is no further set script in An Audience with Pieter-Dirk Eish. Instead, individuals are chosen out of the audience to pick a number between one and 19.

Whichever character lurks inside the chosen container is the one Uys will then transform into right before your eyes. No two shows will therefore ever play out in exactly the same way, or even in the same order of character sketches performed.

“Who voted for the NP after 1994?” he asked us during opening night’s first sketch, or “Are there any gay people in the audience?” during another. Adopting a spirit of inclusivity, the purpose here is not to poke fun at individuals, but to create a relaxed atmosphere in which everyone is able to enjoy him or herself.

While tannie Evita will most certainly give me a snotklap for revealing much more, those of Uys’ characters who made appearances during opening night included Groot Krokodil PW Botha, Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman, former foreign minister Pik Botha, kugel Noelle Fine and, of course, South Africa’s most famous white woman herself.

Among the other persons we missed out on, but who I’m told on good authority are also waiting to be unleashed, are convict Oscar Pistorius, retired Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu, German chancellor Angela Merkel as well as First Lady of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe.

While several of his characters’ un-PC jokes won’t necessarily work if performed by another comedian, they do here (including Madiba’s sketch) because we can see without a doubt that they are executed with the best of intentions.

“There are two things I hate about South Africa. Apartheid and the blacks,” Noelle’s character contradictorily remarks at one point, while during another scene a racist Afrikaner-type can be heard dropping the K-bomb repeatedly.

But it is Uys’ infectious optimism that ultimately trumps all. In addition to his current residency at Theatre on the Bay, earlier this month also saw him, through tannie Evita, launch a Twitter campaign called #CommitYourSelfie.

Proudly holding up her own sign on social media (a notice urging president Zuma to “Pay back the money”), tannie Evita asked her followers to post pictures of themselves while posing with messages against government corruption.

“Does history repeat itself and turn tragedy into farce?” Uys queried in a recent interview ahead of this production’s opening. “Maybe, on some minor levels of stupidity. For instance, the famed Gupta wedding and Nkandla fire pool.

“But looking at the characters and stories I have lined up – some old, some new, some borrowed and some blue – I don’t really believe that history does repeat itself in South Africa. It simply rhymes: from apartheid to tripartite; from Amanda to Nkandla!”

On only for another three weeks before moving to Johannesburg’s Pieter Toerien Main Theatre, An Audience with Pieter-Dirk EISH is already the most sought-after invitation in town.

By sequenced hook or camp crook, do anything you must to secure your seat.

l Tickets are R95 – R165. To book, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or see www.computicket.com.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

REVIEW: AN AUDIENCE WITH PIETER-DIRK EISH