South African films had a field day at the recently held FESPACO 2009, in Burkina Faso, where some of the world’s most influential celluloid makers converged for the continent’s foremost filmmakers’ rendezvous.

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Khalo Matabane
It was no doubt an Mzansi affair, with almost every second winner announced being a proudly South African filmmaker, including Kalo Matabane, John Kani and Rapulano Seiphemo.

Kani’s film Nothing But The Truth won two awards, the Silver Étalon de Yennenga (Stallion of Yennenga), and the Ousmane Sembene prize (Sembene is the late Senegalese film luminary).

Film director Khalo Matabane won the Best Television Series prize with When We Were Black. In Focus spoke to him about how the award was affecting him as a person and as a professional.

“One should not depend on awards otherwise you would go crazy. I make films because I am passionate about storytelling, because it’s a way to try and understand the world and myself.  The awards are a bonus. Awards create two things - people take me seriously and the funders, broadcasters, family and friends think I am not crazy after all.

“But they can also mean that doors close for you because you don’t make mainstream politically correct work. I must say I have been fortunate.”

Asked on what he felt about the future of South African film, Matabane said: “…Cinema in South Africa and the continent is in a difficult position at all levels. There are challenges; how do you create a cinema that speaks about us to us and is distributed to us and is debated by us? I think African cinema is the cinema of the gods, the cinema of the dreamers because it’s like the Ayi Kweyi Armah image from the Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born of people walking - there is a cul de sac but you keep going. I create sometimes without knowing what will happen to the work, but I can’t live without creating.”

Tendeka Matatu, who produced Jerusalema, which won Best Actor, Best Editing and Best Cinematography, spoke about this great film.

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Rapulana Seiphemo
Jerusalema has been a fabulous experience, I’ve had had the rare opportunity to work with a great group of people, especially director, Ralph Ziman, who has been a great inspiration for me. The success of the film is very much down to the hard work that everyone put into the film. Is this as good as it gets? Definitely not, there is a lot more to come from the ‘Jerusalema Dream Team’!”

How does he feel about winning at the continent’s biggest film showcase? “Winning any award is always a great honour, winning awards at FESPACO is especially poignant because it is the premiere African Film festival, winning three awards at FESAPACO is incredible!”

He added: “It was also important because we picked up two technical awards, for Best Editor and Best Cinematography, for both David Helfand (Editor) and Nic Hofmeyr (DP). Jerusalema was their first feature film, so for them to be awarded and recognised for their part in crafting the film is particularly exciting.”

Commenting on the future, Matatu said South Africa must continue to make more films and most importantly, the local filmmakers must stay true to their hearts to tell their own stories with their own voices.

When asked what future lay ahead for him following his award at FASPACO, actor Rapulana Seiphemo said: “I am just going to keep working as hard and as frequently as I possibly can. At this time, my business partners (Kenneth Nkosi and Jann Turner) and I are working on releasing our first ever feature film, White Wedding, through Ster Kinekor and it is having its South African theatrical release on 1 May 2009.  It was written and produced by the three of us, directed by Jann Turner and stars myself and Kenneth Nkosi. If all goes well we hope to shoot a movie a year. Click here to go to White Wedding article in this newsletter

“I love what I do and so far this industry has been kind to me. The fact that people acknowledge and appreciate the work that I do is icing on the cake.”

Has his recent achievement affected his daily life? “Not that much,” he replied, “except that there are about two journalists, including yourself that called me for comment. Here in South Africa, people do not appreciate FESPACO the way other people from other countries do. That also includes the so called stakeholders in the entertainment industry.”