The best of SA's breakthrough decade of film and TV
The top 10 highlights from the past 10 years
The 2010s saw African films make even more headlines at the world’s biggest festivals, from the American Film Institute (AFI) to Berlin, Sundance to Toronto, earning Oscar and Golden Globe nominations along the way. As we prepare to enter the 2020s, here are four global breakthrough series and movies to stream, all available on Showmax.
Breakthrough TV: The River
In a nutshell, The River follows the lives of the Dikana and Mokoena clans. They are two families from very different backgrounds, brought together by the discovery of a diamond in Cullinan, a stone's throw from Pretoria.
But this show is much more than that — it's full of twists and turns, and enough intrigue and betrayal to keep you enthralled from start to finish. And it always keeps you wanting more. Luckily, you can binge the whole show, right up to the latest episode, and the third season is coming express to Showmax in January.
The River was nominated as Best Telenovela at the International Emmy Awards in 2019.
Stream The River on Showmax here
* Mzansi Magic's first teen drama, Is’thunzi, earned Thuso Mbedu unprecedented back-to-back best actress nominations at the International Emmy Awards in 2017 and 2018. This helped land her a lead role in The Underground Railroad, an adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
* Mzansi Magic’s supernatural drama, The Herd (2018), won the Jury’s Special Prize at the Seoul International Drama Awards in 2019.
Breakthrough animation: Revolting Rhymes (2016)
“I guess you think you know this story. You don’t. The real one’s much more gory.”
Roald Dahl’s classic of subversive fairy tales was brought to life in Cape Town by Triggerfish, who animated Revolting Rhymes for Magic Light Pictures, alongside Magic Light’s Berlin office.
Revolting Rhymes reimagines familiar stories, structuring them around the friendship of the pistol-packing Red Riding Hood (Bafta winner Rose Leslie from Game of Thrones and The Good Fight) and her resourceful best friend, Snow White (Gemma Chan from Crazy Rich Asians). The Big Bad Wolf (Dominic West from The Wire), seven jockeys with gambling debts and three property-developing pigs all feature, as does Cinderella’s fairy godmother, Jack, and a beanstalk and his nasty mother.
Directed by Jakob Schuh (Oscar-nominated for The Gruffalo) and Jan Lachauer (Oscar-nominated for Room on the Broom), Revolting Rhymes was nominated for an Oscar and won some of the world’s biggest animation awards, including the International Emmy Kids Award for Animation, Best Animation at the Bafta Children’s Awards, Best Animated Special at the Annie Awards and Best One-Off Special at Kidscreen.
Stream Revolting Rhymes on Showmax here.
* Triggerfish also animated three adaptations of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler classics as BBC Christmas Specials with Magic Light. All won multiple international awards, with Stick Man (2015) winning at Annecy and Kidscreen, The Highway Rat (2017) at Rose d’Or and Zog (2018) at New York International Children’s Film Festival. It is nominated for Annie, Kidscreen and International Emmy awards in 2020.
* Triggerfish’s movies, Adventures in Zambezia (2012) and Khumba (2013), became the most successful South African film exports in 30 years. They have been translated into 27 languages, licensed in more than 150 countries and have generated more than R1bn.
* Munki and Trunk (2016), produced in Cape Town by Sunrise, became a YouTube phenomenon, racking up more than 2m subscribers.
Breakthrough documentary: Whispering Truth To Power (2018)
With exclusive, behind-the-scenes access, Whispering Truth To Power charts the final year in office of SA’s public protector, Thuli Madonsela, as she attempts to seek justice for ordinary people.
After successfully challenging President Jacob Zuma for illegal use of state funds, Madonsela now has to face the biggest challenge of her career: investigating — in the face of protests, death threats and legal challenges — the alleged systematic takeover of government by a private family in cahoots with the president.
Shameela Seedat’s directorial debut, Whispering Truth To Power won the Special Jury Prize at Hot Docs, North America’s most important documentary festival, for “its timely portrait of a bad-ass public servant who uses her office for good at a pivotal moment in South African politics”.
Stream Whispering Truth To Power on Showmax here.
* Stroop: Journey into the Rhino Horn War (2018) won 26 awards, including Best of Festival at The International Wildlife Film Festival 2019, and was shortlisted for the Presenter and Impact awards at Jackson Wild 2019, arguably the Oscars of the wildlife film world.
* Pascale Lamche won the Directing Award at Sundance for Winnie (2017), a documentary on one of the most misunderstood, and most intriguing and powerful contemporary female political figures, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
* Liyana (2017), a genre-defying documentary about a storytelling workshop with SA's Gcina Mhlope and five children in the Kingdom of Eswatini, won 35 international awards.
* Everything Must Fall (2019), Rehad Desai’s #feesmustfall documentary won The Vaclav Havel Award at the One World Human Rights Documentary Film Festival this year.
Breakthrough film: Inxeba|The Wound (2017)
Directed by John Trengove, Inxeba tells the story of Xolani (Nakhane), a lonely factory worker, who joins the men of his community in the mountains of the Eastern Cape to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood. When a defiant initiate from the city discovers his best-kept secret, Xolani’s entire existence begins to unravel.
Inxeba is one of the most talked-about South African movies of the past decade. Local cinemas were forced to cancel screenings after death threats and protests about its depiction of the secret Xhosa initiation ritual. Then the Film and Publications Board Tribunal reclassified it as pornography (it’s not) after complaints from traditionalists, essentially banning it from mainstream cinemas. The classification was later overturned in the North Gauteng High Court.
I-D Magazine called it “the most important LGBT film you will see in 2018 ... through the character of Xolani we are introduced to a world where homosexuality is still simply not an option”. The excessive protests against the film laid bare the rampant homophobia that remains in parts of SA.
In addition to a 90% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Inxeba was Oscar-shortlisted and won more than 25 international awards, including the Sutherland Award for best first feature at the London Film Festival, the Grand Jury Award at LA Outfest and Best Actor for Nakhane at Palm Springs.
Stream Inxeba on Showmax here.
* The feel-good Kenyan superhero film, Supa Modo (2018), won more than 50 international awards, including Best European Film for Children from the 2019 European Children's Film Association Awards and a Children's Jury Special Mention in the Generation 14Plus category at Berlin in 2018.
* Endgame, about the covert negotiations to end apartheid, was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and an Emmy for Outstanding Made for Television Movie in 2010, among other honours.
* Kenyan film Kati Kati (2016), described by The Playlist as “a condensed version of Lost”, won the Prize of the International Federation of Film Critics for the Discovery programme at Toronto International Film Festival.
* Kenyan crime movie Nairobi Half Life (2012) won the Breakthrough Audience Award at AFI Fest for director David Tosh Gitonga.
* Stories of Our Lives (2014), an anthology of five short films about the queer experience in Kenya, won a Teddy Award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2015.
* Mrs Mandela (2010) earned Sophie Okonedo a Bafta nomination for Best Actress for her performance as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
* Kanarie, Schalk Bezuidenhout's breakout movie, was named one of Indiewire’s 14 Best LGBTQ International Films of 2018 and has a 100% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
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This article was paid for by Showmax