In spite of everything that has happened these past 10 days, the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) will still host the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) from 22 July to 1 August 2021. And the films and documentaries they screen talk about the world we live in which passes most of us by unseen and unheard. DIANE DE BEER looks at just a handful of entries available for free viewing – and encourages viewers to look more closely at our world – all of it not simply the one we find palatable:

This year, for its 42nd edition, the festival presents close to 140 feature films, documentaries and short films alongside an exciting industry programme: Isiphethu.
DIFF which is located in Durban but representative of African voices across the continent and the diaspora, is a dynamic platform that aims to broaden our viewpoints and allow for robust critical discourse about our societies. The Festival hopes that its extensive programme drawn from across the continent and from other parts of the globe will disrupt, challenge, provoke and provide directions for a deeper and more empathetic understanding of the human condition – something that we need more than ever in these times.

The entire programme, alongside all the films that will be screening, is accessible through

Programme and details

Screenings by film students and a diverse workshop and seminar programme are the pulse of this year’s Isiphethu industry-focused programme at DIFF, aiming to educate and up-skill, instil confidence in young aspirant filmmakers and share information that is relevant to the film industry and empowers young people. 

All workshops and seminars take place between 26 and 30 July and are accessible for free through Zoom and streamed live on Facebook. Find the entire programme and register for the Zoom Room here:
The full programme, alongside all the films that will be screening, is accessible through Tickets for the virtual screenings are only available from South Africa and free and accessible through a booking system, which will open tomorrow (21 July 2021).

The 42nd edition of the Festival is organised by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts, in partnership and with the support of the KZN Film Commission, the National Film and Video Foundation, KZN Department of Arts & Culture, the Film and Publications Board and other valued funders and partners. 

Here are four of the films/documentaries available and if this is any indication, the stories are extraordinary and will change the way you view the world:

Rickshaw Girl: This was my first experience of a Bangladeshi film and I was quite interested to see what I would make of it.

Rickshaw Girl, a story about a young girl trying to make a living to save her father’s life.

What I didn’t expect was to find a mind that I completely identified with – that of the scriptwriter. After all, or so I thought, we live on different continents and live completely different lives. If I know anything about Bangladesh apart from frequent flooding and natural disasters (I think), it is also that  every so often we read of a large number of women, garment workers, who die in a factory fires!

That’s true then I realised as our Rickshaw Girl is adamant that even if she has no income or food, that’s not where she is going to work … ever

Work becomes what drives her when her father falls ill and loses the family’s main source of income as a rickshaw man. But she can’t simply take over because to do the work, you have to be male – and after many struggles, that’s what she decides to become – a man.

I lost my heart to our heroine, who had a very specific outlook on the world and what she was prepared to do and take to provide for her family. And that’s how dreams come true…

Not only do you make contact with a different part of the world in this beautiful film, it is again reinforced that we all have the same dreams and desires and will do anything to achieve them. It’s a message of hope and one we could embrace  ̶  especially now.

The Last Shelter: The title explains exactly what this documentary is about. It is the last place of safety for hopeful immigrants in Gao, Mali, a refuge at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. It is a final stay-over for those in transit towards Algeria in the north or their way back from a failed attempt to make it to Europe.

Two teenage girls from Burkina Faso named Esther and Kady are the ones who tell this particular story and the thing that grabs you by the throat is the desperation, the determination, the daring of these two young girls. What is clear, though, is that both feel they don’t have any choice. While everyone they come into contact with explains the hardships and horrors of this particular journey, where else should or could they go?

And probably/possibly, that’s what people don’t understand about immigrants. These journeys aren’t undertaken with much hope, joy or even expectation. Those participating with this level of trauma at play, feel this is their only outcome – even if there’s a 50 percent chance (probably higher) of dying.

I found it mesmerising to watch, especially in these times when many people for whatever reason are reassessing their lives. Those of us who have homes have to think hard about our privileges – really.

I Am Here: This is something completely different but sadly no less harrowing, as one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors, a spirited Ella Blumenthal, at her 98th birthday celebrations tells of her life and her past so that her Cape Town-based family can experience just what she had gone through as a young Jewish girl from Warsaw, Poland during World War 2.

Many of us know the stories and have read and watched many horrific tales but there’s always another tale of heroism and resilience that gives us hope for anything we might have to face in life.

It is Ella’s spirit, her courage and the way she approaches life and the world around her that is so encouraging in someone who has endured more than any of us could even imagine. So many stories, so much pain but there are always those who stand up, fight back and remain vigilant and determined to tell their stories. She’s truly an inspiration.

Zinder: It’s the name of a town, but it kept steering my mind to tinder because that’s what the lifestyle I was being exposed to, reminded me of. Something that might go up in smoke at a whim. It is, however, a town in Niger, and in the poor area of Kara-Kara which used to be a leper’s district, a culture of gang violence reigns.

It’s not the kind of topic that would normally appeal to me, but in this world of the haves and the have nots (and you don’t have to have that much to fall into the first group, and most of the world falls into the second), we have to start paying attention – and the recent events in our own country pointed to just that.

The reason we are watching flames rising in many different parts of the world is because those who have something are so busy accumulating and flourishing that they haven’t noticed those who struggle simply to survive  ̶  day by day. As the apartheid fathers showed, it’s easy to ignore what is happening all around you, if you don’t want to know. Simply turn away.

And this is what makes this festival and its choices such a gripping one, it takes you to places you might be aware of but will never visit. This is your chance, in the safety of your home, and it is both well made and doesn’t cost anything. Even if or when reluctant, I was totally gripped and warmed to the people telling their stories.

It truly is time to pay attention if you haven’t before.

And if I haven’t been persuasive enough …

* The Generation Africa film Zinder directed by Aïcha Macky, won the Ladima Foundation  Adiaha Award for Best Documentary Film by an African woman at this year’s 23rd Encounters South African International Documentary Festival last month.

Winning director for Zinder Aicha Macky

The Jury gave this citation: “For its powerful and engrossing deep-dive into the life and struggles of young people in the streets of her marginalised home town. The director paints a compelling, unadorned and humane portrait of a harsh and neglected corner of the world, providing a non-judgmental and trusting space for her characters to reflect on their own choices and on the social inequity and spirals of violence that pervade their lives.”

The prize includes $2000 towards their next production and an invitation to attend the Dortmund Cologne International Women’s Film Festival 2022 in Germany, where their film will be screened.  

“It is an honour for me and my team to receive this award at the Encounters Festival,” said Macky speaking from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. “The film itself is the result of an ‘encounter’ between me and a newspaper that painted a bleak picture of the youth of my hometown without any glimmer of hope. This is our first international award, and for us it means that this work made from a singular story touches many.  It is the voice of the youth to whom I dedicate this film that begins to remember them.”

At the 2018 Durban FilmMart, Zinder also won the AfriDocs award of €2500 for further development, funded by the Bertha Foundation.

“For STEPS it’s been a great journey working with Aïcha and her co-producers on this film,” enthused Don Edkins, producer at STEPS and AfriDocs. “She has crafted a beautiful film that asks pertinent questions about her country and the futures of its youth. Aicha is not only a courageous woman filmmaker but also a leader in her country’s film community leading the change that young people are yearning for.”