Africa Rising International Film Festival keeps driving tough conversations

Festival goes mostly online amid pandemic but still raises awareness of big societal challenges through screenings and discussions

01 December 2020 - 08:58 By Staff Writer
Wendy Gumede with host Emmanuel Ndlovu at this year's Africa Rising International Film Festival.
Wendy Gumede with host Emmanuel Ndlovu at this year's Africa Rising International Film Festival.
Image: Supplied

Gender-based violence (GBV), Black Lives Matter and unjust systems of governance: these were among the topics highlighted at the third annual Africa Rising International Film Festival (Ariff), held in Johannesburg and online over the weekend.

The theme of this year's three-day event was “Film for change: GBV and equality”. The organisers aimed to raise awareness of GBV and equality through the power of cinema and storytelling, and to push for change and accountability.

The festival opened on Friday with the prominent Kenyan film Softie, based on the life of political activist and photojournalist Boniface Mwangi and his family, and closed on a high with Antebellum, starring Gabourey Sidibe (Empire), musician Janelle Monáe and Tongayi Chirisa (The Jim Gaffigan Show).

More than 35 films and documentaries were selected for this year's event, dealing with issues such as GBV, homophobia, poverty and government corruption. Most of the films selected were directed by women, and the event's Instagram TV screening platform promoted the work of emerging filmmakers. 

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This year, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the festival mostly took place via its online platforms, with only a limited number of physical cinema screenings.

“For our 2020 run, we had to consider the Covid-19 pandemic and be creative and strategic in our presentation,” said festival director Ayanda Sithebe. “Together with the youth volunteers, we managed to drive necessary conversations about GBV, Black Lives Matter and unjust systems, while also empowering young emerging filmmakers and content creators.”

Among the films screened were also Where Were You?, an animated feature about violence against women, told in different languages and from different countries; Farewell Armor by Ekwa Msangi; Thomas Gumede’s coming-of-age film Kedibone; and Laurence Ralph's award-winning The Torture Letters, about police brutality.

A highlight of the event was a screening of This Is Not A Burial, It's A Resurrection, in honour of its late star, actress Mary Twala. The film is Lesotho's first Oscars submission. 


The festival featured roundtable discussions and one-on-one conversations with industry leaders and practitioners about the health of the SA film industry. Topics in these discussions included cinematography and lighting as storytelling tools; authentic storytelling; the director's vision of “capturing culture and influence, and telling stories that matter”; and women in film.

A digital panel hosted by Emmanuel Ndlovu featured Wendy Gumede (better known as Instagram star The Black Wendy) and YouTube creators Lasizwe Dambuza and Tsoanelo Moyo Moses.

This year, the Ariff Film Child initiative also came to Cape Town in the form of cinema excursions for young, disenfranchised learners from marginalised communities. This initiative teaches pupils about the craft of cinema and opportunities in the industry.

Cape Town's township-based experiential cinema curators Vuma Pop-up Cinema helped to bring the experience to children under 12 years old living in Khayelitsha. Two films were screened, and the children took part in various activities throughout the day.

“We have put our collective efforts towards providing a platform for a plethora of voices, particularly marginalised voices, to be heard and recognised, as seen in our film selection and curated talks — using cinema and the world of storytelling to have urgent conversations,” said Tuku.

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• This article was sponsored by the Africa Rising International Film Festival.