The Tri Continental Film Festival
South Africa's Tri Continental Human Rights Film Festival both showcases beautifully crafted and meaningful films to mass audiences and hosts forums for debate and film education, keeping channels of communication open between film audiences, civil society, the media and the state.

The Tri Continental Film Festival hits Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban for the eighth time this year, presenting a rich selection of human rights documentaries from Africa, Asia and South America – despite huge funding cuts.

Recession has bitten hard into the budgets of key supporters, the SABC and the Gauteng Film Commission, who have had to withdraw funding for the festival.

The travails of the public broadcaster, along with the growth of smaller, less affluent channels, has seriously tightened the screws on documentary film funding and on opportunities for airing diverse voices to mass audiences.

Yet today we need these voices more than ever.

In a time when South Africans are fighting to defend social reforms and hard-won democratic freedoms, independent documentary film becomes more important.

Perhaps this explains why 2010 has seen some urgent filmmaking in South Africa by a generation of talented filmmakers who have responded to the end of traditional funding models with an array of independent films that are refreshing in their poignancy and desperately in search of serious platforms.

It’s one thing getting these films made, and another ensuring they are seen by as many people as possible.

This is the role of festivals such as the Tri Continental, which both showcases beautifully crafted and meaningful films to mass audiences and hosts forums for debate and film education, keeping channels of communication open between film audiences, civil society, the media and the state.

The South African films on offer have a firm focus on human rights.

Andy Spitz’s We Are Nowhere is an uncomfortable reminder that not enough has been done to address the causes of xenophobia and that the spark that lit the original flame has not died.

Arya Lalloo’s Citizen X is an unflinching portrait of civil unrest in the new South Africa, recently named as the most unequal society in the world, while David Forbes’s The Cradock Four, set in 1985, details one of apartheid’s murkiest and most controversial assassinations.

Odette Geldenhuys’s Here Be Dragons tells the story of George Bizos, the man who saved Nelson Mandela from the gallows, fought for justice at the inquest into the death of Steve Biko and took on more human rights cases than any other lawyer in South Africa.

Rehad Desai’s The Battle for Johannesburg captures the changing face of Johannesburg while raising questions about social investment, enduring poverty and alienated communities that refuse to live together.

The current tight economic environment has meant some tough decisions on the scope of the festival: rolling back outreach screenings, where films are taken to hard-to-reach audiences.

The festival organisers’ priority this year is to get audiences to cinemas to watch films that shine a spotlight on a troubled world and to take part in a series of debates.

This year the festival, in association with Greenpeace, also offers a selection of films that highlight the relationship between development, the environment and the survival of humanity itself.

Dirty Oil is a much-anticipated feature documentary from Academy Award-nominated director Leslie Iwerks and goes deep behind-the-scenes into the strip-mined world of northern Alberta, Canada, where vast and toxic oil sands supply the US with the majority of its oil.

The story is told through the eyes of scientists, big-oil officials, politicians, doctors, environmentalists and the aboriginal citizens directly affected by the largest industrial project on the planet today.

Dirty Oil uncovers the emotional and irreversible toll this “black goldrush” is talking on our planet.

Sweet Crude is a journey of multilayered revelation and ever-deepening questions, directed by Sandy Cioffi. It begins with a small group of peaceful, intelligent protestors taking a stand against the devastation caused by foreign oil companies’ operations in the Niger Delta.

Their protest slowly becomes more violent and militant as lives and the environment are increasingly put at risk for profit.

The film is a fascinating and urgent story about power gone corrupt, industry destroying without care for the consequences, the people left to deal with it all and a region on the verge of war.

The festival teams up with Human Rights Watch with the Kenyan-US documentary Good Fortune, which details the politics of international aid as it affects the lives of two Kenyans, one in Nairobi, the other in the rural countryside.

This gripping film shows how massive international efforts to alleviate poverty in Africa can undermine the very communities they aim to benefit.

A series of screenings this year will be dedicated to freedom of expression.

These include An Independent Mind, a feature-length documentary that details increasing attacks on this cornerstone of democracy and the underpinning of any free society, and American Radical, featuring American academic Norman Finkelstein, the son of holocaust survivors and an ardent critic of Israel and US Middle East policy, a deeply polarising figure whose struggles arise from core questions about freedom, identity and nationhood.

This year festival also partners the Goethe-Institut in hosting a series of workshops aimed at filmmakers.

Other film titles include:

From Africa

Afrikaner Afrikaan
Forest of Crocodiles
Driving with Fanon
Mugabe and the White African
White as Blood
A Place Without People
The Hillside Crowd
Sweet Crude
War Child
On The Other Side of Life
Surfing Soweto
Garbage Dreams
A Small Town Called Descent
Where Do I Stand?
Forgotten Gold
Comrade Goldberg
Soweto Sneezed – And Then We Caught the Fever

From Asia and the Middle East

Gaza on Air
Nero’s Guests
The Red Chapel
Cowboys in India

From Latin America

Our Disappeared
Beyond Ipanema

The Tri Continental Film Festival will take place at selected cinemas from 1 to 21 October:

  • Cinema Nouveau Rosebank (Johannesburg) 1 to 10 October
  • Ster Kinekor Maponya Mall (Johannesburg) 1 to 03 October
  • The Bioscope Independent Cinema, Fox Street, Johannesburg 3 to 10 October
  • Cinema Nouveau Brooklyn Mall (Pretoria) 8 to 14 October
  • Cinema Nouveau Gateway (Durban) 15 to 21 October

Tickets may be booked either through Ticketline on 082 16789 or online, on a WAP-enabled cellphone or PC via book at Ster-Kinekor cinemas at the self-service terminals or box offices.