THE BEAT: African storytellers at Johannesburg film festival

Friday November 29 2019

Scenes from Joburg at a media showcase by Mulitchoice, which coincided with Joburg Film Festival. PHOTO | MULTICHOICE

It was lights, camera, and action as some of the biggest names in Africa’s movie industry and beyond made their way to Johannesburg for the Joburg Film Festival (JFF).

The Beat had a front row seat and got to witness the unravelling of great entertainment which celebrated African story-tellers.

Africa isn’t in short supply of festivals that celebrate local talent in film. Different spectacles that hail film and such related content across the content try to uplift raw talent while also boosting the relevance of perennial names in the film industry. However, it is an undeniable fact that most of the film festivals in Africa need an overhaul or slight boost to improve the reach and effectiveness in the industry.

Recently, Joburg Film Festival (JFF), a celebration of African talent in film attracted the attendance of a wide audience hailing from different parts of the African continent.

With a desire to witness the glitz and glam of top-notch stars in the film industry, the stage was set for a great showcase.

Though not blemish-free, there are a lot of things that other film festivals in Africa can learn from the fairly new JFF.


Being staged for the third time, the festival featured 60 global curated films, six venues and one awesome city. The Joburg Film Festival was born out of the desire to create an independent platform that not only tells Africa’s stories, but showcases and rewards the continent’s and international excellence in film.

Similar to other film festivals held in different parts of Africa, such as Tanzania’s Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), the JFF is the highlight of Johannesburg’s film events calendar.

Held for 6 days from 19 November to 24, this year, an even wider range of international and local films was assembled. The festival featured films shown from over 16 different countries.

Staged across six superb venues, the JFF resembled a Hollywood awards ceremony or festival. Complete with sprawling red carpets, celebrity guests and tons of networking opportunities. Nelson Mandela Square and Sandton City were the official hosts for this year’s festival. This ensured for remarkable glitz and glam galore!

Films such as Flatland (South Africa), Rocks (UK), Our Lady of the Nile (France), and Hero, were some of the most talked about films at this year’s festival.

Why JFF is relevant to Africa’s film industry

At a time when Africa is trying to pave way for its locally produced films to make it to the global stage, such festivals that attract the attention of international media and big players in the global movie market are very important.

At this year’s festival big names such as Zakes Mda; NCIS: New Orleans and Avatar actress, South African screen star, Florence Masebe; renowned Nigerian documentary filmmaker, screenwriter and cinematographer Femi Odugbemi; and Canadian academic and writer, Nataleah Hunter-Young, were all in attendance to witness the stride made by local African films.

In a continued effort to boost production and quality of African films, a selection of five movies were put on the spotlight to be scrutinized by a panel of industry experts for quality.

Zakes Mda, as well as actress CC Pounder and Femi Odugbemi, West Africa MultiChoice Talent Factory Academy Director, were a part of a panel of five industry experts who judged films based on elements such as story line, direction, creativity, cinematography, relevance, execution and technical application.

This year, the JFF partnered with Multichoice to bring an even wider range of international and local films. Their goal is to create the continent’s pre-eminent film festival.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better partner than the MultiChoice Group, an organisation that is passionate about African storytelling, as we believe our stories are our gold,” says Joburg Film Festival Executive Director, Timothy Mangwedi.

Embracing content from different parts of the global film industry, this year’s JFF saw a number of international films showcased at the festival in an exciting setup that had the audience on the edge of their seats. Films such as Idris Elba’s directorial debut, Yardie and Amazing Grace, a documentary about the life and music of Aretha Franklin. South African feature film, Letters of Hope were among the main programme features.

On November 21, a film titled Hero was showcased. Any Tanzanian audience present at the festival must’ve been elated to see a well-told story of the independence struggle in Africa and how the late Mwl. Julius Nyerere was a pivotal part of the liberation journey.

Told through the prism of war-hero Ulric Cross, Hero details the nascent rise of true Pan-Africanism.

Such were the kinds of films showcased at JFF, films so diverse that they spoke to different types of audiences at different intervals.

The JFF also featured an award ceremony to recognize some of the world’s most remarkable films.

Legendary producer Richard Green was recognised with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the festival. Richard Green is one of Africa’s most experienced producers with over forty years of experience in the film industry.

His most recent film Tokoloshe – The Calling, which he directed, was picked up by American distributors Together Magic Film Group and is scheduled for a 2020 release. His producing credits include ground breaking SA films including: Nothing but the Truth; The Wooden Camera; The Sexy Girls; Chikin Biznis – The Whole Story and Spud.

The festival also recognised some of Africa’s finest storytellers with the inaugural ‘MultiChoice Africa’s Most-Loved Storytellers Awards’.

Activist, actress, storyteller, poet, playwright, director and author Gcina Mhlophe received the Legend Award for her longstanding contribution to continental storytelling and internationally-acclaimed author Deon Meyer was honoured with the Global Storyteller Award for his work in spreading stories from Africa around the globe. Creative duo Jahmil X.T. Qubheka and Layla Swart were honoured with the inaugural Emerging Storyteller Award for their status as exciting new voices in African storytelling and investigative journalist Karyn Maughan claimed the Fearless Storyteller Award.