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16 of the best movies and doccies to watch at the virtual Durban film fest

Our film critic presents his top picks

18 July 2021 - 00:00 By
The cast of 'In My Dream'.
The cast of 'In My Dream'.
Image: Supplied

SA's longest-running international film festival is not physically happening in Durban this year, but there's still a rich variety of films from the country, the rest of Africa and many far-flung corners of the globe to be enjoyed as the event moves online.

The virtual festival kicks off on July 22. Here are some of the highlights: 



US director John Gutierrez's noirish thriller is set in the murky world of abalone smuggling in Cape Town. When two brothers discover a body and a two bags of precious abalone in a hotel room, they make a fateful decision that will soon place them in the sights of a corrupt government worker who pursues them across the peninsula in a desperate race against the clock that doesn't end well for everyone.


An evocative portrait of the world as seen through the eyes of a child struggling with the trauma of having survived a car accident. In director Murat Çeri's film the Turkish countryside and a memorable cast of characters are beautifully realised and filmed. The merging of the dream world of the boy at its centre with that of the world going on around him works to offer a tender portrait of a unique people and the place they inhabit.

WATCH | 'In My Dream' trailer.


Based on a true story, this historical drama is an evocative examination of forbidden love under Soviet rule at the height of the Cold War. A young Soviet air force trainee meets a dashing fighter pilot, sending his plans, life and dreams into a tailspin in an epic, tragic journey that's indelibly shaped by the iron fist of the regime.

WATCH | 'Firebird' trailer.


In writer/director Adrian Martinez's touching comedy, Martinez plays Gilbert, an over-mothered man dreaming of escape into the arms of a woman. He substitutes physical relationships with the fairer sex by secretly filming them on the streets of New York with his cellphone camera. When he accidentally captures something useful to the police Gilbert is elevated to the status of local hero and we watch to see if this will lead to a relationship with the woman he loves — his downstairs neighbour.

WATCH | 'I Gilbert' trailer.


Brothers David and Sasa Vajda throw you deep into the nightmarish world of a Christian drug rehab in the German countryside and keep you firmly in the clutches of this depressing, claustrophobic setting, using real-life addicts and people suffering from mental illness to play themselves. It's difficult to watch but an intriguing piece of docu-fiction.

WATCH | 'Jesus Egon Christ' trailer.


A visually awesome evocation of a place and its history is offered in Spanish director Lois Patiño's haunting fable about a Galatian fishing village paralysed by the loss of a diver known for helping to recover the bodies of shipwrecked sailors. Everything is filmed with almost total stillness as the villagers offer their thoughts, in poetic voice-over monologues, on the dead man, the mythology of Galicia and the battle between humans and the forces of nature.

WATCH | 'Red Moon Tide' trailer.


Iranian director Majid Berzegar asks big questions about mortality in his quiet human drama centred on a nurse who's asked to leave her city job at a hospital and spend time with a family who are watching over the final moments in the life of their patriarch. Usually stoic and capable when it comes to the potentially traumatic matter of euthanasia, the nurse finds this assignment to be her most challenging and life-changing. Powerfully acted and elegantly executed, it's a small film whose deep questions linger.

WATCH | 'The Rain Falls Where It Will' trailer.



Polish director Tomasz Wolski uses the archive of the country's Soviet-era secret police to paint a picture of the banality of life under a surveillance state. It offers its ordinariness as a powerful testament to the failure of the oppressive regime to snuff out the humanity of its citizens. There's plenty of Kafkaesque menace arising out of the paranoia that suffuses everyday life, but it is punctuated by people doing their best to find some sense of normalcy.

WATCH | 'An Ordinary Country' trailer.


The ignored survivors of Congo's six-day war in 2000 journey to the country's capital to demand recognition and compensation from the government. Director Diedu Hamadi brings to vivid life the terrible experiences of the characters and the righteousness of their cause, while not being afraid to shy away from their foibles and shortcomings as human beings whose lives have been irreversibly upended.

WATCH | 'Downstream to Kinshasa' trailer.


Mo Scarpelli's film begins as a strange behind-the-scenes observation of Venezuelan director Jorge Thielen Armand's attempt to make a fiction feature based on his father's life, in which his irascible father plays himself. It morphs into an intriguing rumination on reality and fiction and the relationships between fathers and sons, set against the backdrop of the Amazon.

WATCH | 'El Father Plays Himself' trailer.


A softly observed examination of the inner and outer worlds of migrants. Director Thi Hien Mai and co-director Tim Ellrich tell the story of Mai's parents, Vietnamese immigrants who've made their lives in Germany for 30 years. It's a look at what home means to the couple and whether its pull is strong enough to bring them back.

WATCH | 'Mein Vietnam' trailer.


The powerful story of the struggle of the people of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, against the against the colonial encroachment of mining corporations and their attempts to use the method of divide and conquer against the indigenous people, who fight back with determination.

WATCH | 'Ophir' trailer.


Winner of the African/South African Feature Award at this year's Encounters documentary film festival, Ousmane Samassékou's fly-on-the wall, fragmented observation of moments from the life of a Malian refugee centre weaves an emotionally engaging tapestry of experiences together in a moving portrait of the fears and hopes of people on their way to somewhere else.

WATCH | 'The Last Shelter' trailer.


A mouthwatering food documentary that follows the effects of the Covid epidemic on award-winning chef Ricard Camarena and his life partner Mari Carmen Bañuis. As they brave the new world of the pandemic-restricted restaurant experience, the couple search the Spanish countryside to find inspiration for new dishes.

Click here to watch the trailer.


A tribute to the lasting social importance of legendary singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte. In 1968, while the US found itself in the midst of tumultuous social upheaval, Belafonte took over Johnny Carson's Tonight Show desk to introduce audiences across the country to artists, politicians and activists from the world of black entertainment and the Civil Rights movement.

WATCH | 'The Sit-in: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show' trailer.


In a small southern Brazilian town lies the grave of a US man named Thomas John Cardell Martyn. Director Loli Menezes pieces together the story of the mysterious founder of Newsweek magazine who led a cloak and dagger existence in South America.

WATCH | 'Uncle Tommy' trailer.

The 2021 Durban International Film Festival will take place online from July 22 to August 1. Visit durbanfilmfest.co.za


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