Shirley Adams
Denise Newman in Shirley Adams

South African Denise Newman has walked off with the best actress award at the eighth African Film Festival of Tarifa in Spain for her role in the feature film Shirley Adams, directed by Oliver Hermanus. The prize, worth €1 500 (R14 500) was awarded on the closing day of the festival, which ran from 11 to 19 June.

“Denise Newman is believable in her complex, sober and sombre portrayal of the film character,” said festival director Mane Cisneros. “With her construction of the character she was able to access the most essential core of humanity.” Another South African fiction movie, State of Violence by writer-director Khalo Matabane, received special mention by the jury.

The African Film Festival of Tarifa (Festival de Cine Africano de Tarifa) is one of the biggest African film festivals in Europe. Now in its eighth year, the festival is held in the Andalusian town of Tarifa which, at a separation of only 14 kilometres, is the closest town on continental Europe to the African continent.

Newman’s film tells the story of Shirley Adams, a woman from a Cape Town slum who spends her days caring for her disabled son Donovan, who was caught by a stray bullet in crossfire between two gangs. Abandoned by her husband, Shirley can barely make ends meet after seeing all of her possessions disappear. With no means of support, she finds herself forced to survive on handouts and the occasional shoplifting at the supermarket. When a young therapist comes into their lives, Shirley grasps the hope that her son may recover his emotional well-being.

Watch the trailer for Shirley Adams:

A total of four South African movies featured in this year’s Tarifa festival: the features Shirley Adams and State of Violence, as well as the documentaries Surfing Soweto and The Killing of the Imam. Eight new African films went home with a total of nine awards, worth €46 500 (R450 750). These were:

  • Best feature-length movie (€15 000) - Microphone (Ahmad Abdalla, Egypt)
  • Best direction (€10 000) - A Jamaâ (Daoud Aoulad-Syad, Morocco and France)
  • Best actress (€1 500) - Denise Newman for Shirley Adams (Oliver Hermanus, South Africa)
  • Best actor (€1 500) - Youssouf Djaoro for Un Homme Qui Crie (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Chad, France and Belgium)
  • Best documentary feature film (€10 000) - Koundi et le Jeudi National (Ariani Astrid Atodji, Cameroon)
  • Best short movie (€2 000) - Mwansa the Great (Rungano Nyoni, Zambia and UK)
  • RTVA award for audiovisual creation for the best short film award (€1 500) - Mwansa the Great (Rungano Nyoni, Zambia and UK)
  • Audience award for the best feature-length movie (€5 000) - Un Homme Qui Crie (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Chad, France and Belgium)
  • Signis award for the best fiction feature film - A Jamaâ (Daoud Aoulad-Syad, Morocco and France)

The festival was attended by more than 200 African filmmakers, including legendary African director Moustapha Alassane. Themes covered included the African diaspora in Latin America, the role of cinema in recent revolutions in Tunis and Egypt, and a retrospective on Congolese cinematography.

Running alongside the festival was the third annual Produce Forum, where 10 African filmmakers vied for funding from European producers, and the fourth Photoafrica, in which 25 photographers from 11 African countries competed under the theme “Urban Space”. The competition was won by South African Jessica MacLeod for her photograph You See a Shack, I See my House.