At an event at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Thursday 31 January, the GFC hosted a congratulatory sendoff for the filmmakers behind two local films selected for screening at the Berlin International Film Festival, and announced the new projects it is supporting this financial year.

layla fourie1A still from Layla Fourie, a movie about mistrust, lies and fear.

Two movies will add some South African spice to the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival, taking place in the German capital from 7 to 17 February. Audiences at the Berlinale, as it is known, will be able to watch Layla Fourie and Elelwani, the Gauteng Film Commission announced yesterday.

It made the announcement at a joyous affair at the Crowne Plaza in Rosebank, on 31 January. Guests ranged from the MEC of arts and culture, Lebogang Maile, to filmmakers and distributers, actors and comedians. Mzwandile Masina, the GFC's chief executive, said the organisation was proud that the two films South African films had been chosen.

The Berlinale is one of the largest film festivals in Europe. It has several components: the European Film Market, the Berlinale Co-Production Market, the Berlinale Talent Campus and the World Cinema Fund.

Main Competition

A new feature film by Berlin-based, South African filmmaker Pia Marais, Layla Fourie, has been invited into the Main Competition. It is the second time a South African movie will be screened in the Main Competition. A multi-country co-production led by German producer, Pandora Film Produktion, it was co-produced by DV8 Films and Spier Films of South Africa.

Jeremy Nathan from DV8 said: "This is an authentic story told by a South African filmmaker with a unique perspective. It is hugely prestigious to be invited to Berlin's official Main Competition ... This is only the second South African film to be in the Main Competition at Berlin, after uCarmen eKhayalitshe."

Marais has two award-winning features under her belt – The Unpolished (Die Unerzogenen) and At Ellen's Age (Im Alter von Ellen). She turned to classic suspense thriller for her third film, Layla Fourie, for which she returned to South Africa, the place of her childhood.

The film centres on the title figure, a young single mother and a polygraphist who gets a job doing pre-employment tests at a casino complex. In the constantly present atmosphere of mistrust, lies and fear, Layla herself becomes a suspect in a murder on her first day at work.

She has her son, Kane, with her. As they start what Layla hopes will be a real life, an accident occurs that radically changes their lives. A web of lies and deception is wrapped around the two, and, as their trust is put to the test, it is perhaps just a matter of time before the truth tears them apart.

"Layla Fourie is set in South Africa, a country that has gone through a complete upheaval since its transition to a democracy," Marais explained. "The very notion of existence in such a country is dramatic. Firstly, it is a film about a young single mother and her son. Yet their relationship and how it evolves throughout the story reflects a certain atmosphere that prevails in this country. [It is] one of hope and yet shadowed by distrust."

She said: "We shot the film in more rural parts of South Africa, north of Durban and in Johannesburg, a very cinematic city ... Obviously, South Africa [has been] through a major change since my childhood there so, for me, it [was] also a re-discovery."

South African actors Terry Norton and Rapulana Seiphemo star in the film, which is also the debut for the young Rapule Hendricks. It also stars August Diehl, who appeared in Salt and Inglorious Basterds.

The GFC supported the post production and distribution of Elelwani by filmmaker Ntshavheni wa Luruli. Elelwani is a young university-educated woman, whose upbringing is steeped in tradition. Her parents have promised her hand in marriage to the Venda king and, as a dutiful daughter, she wants to obey their wishes. But to do so means Elelwani must abandon her dreams of travel, further education and – most importantly – her commitment to her one true love.

Projects

The GFC supported 20 projects in the 2012/2013 financial year, and the commission is sending a delegation to Berlinale with the filmmakers. While in Germany, they will do some fact finding for the proposed launch of the Johannesburg International Film Festival.

Taking the opportunity of the farewell party for the filmmakers, the GFC spoke about the projects it was supporting in the third and fourth quarters of its 2012/2013 fiscal year, as well as announced new projects it would be supporting.

These include SA Music Journey, a documentary by drummer, composer and arranger Vusi Khumalo, who traces the history of musicians since the 1960s to illustrate how music has evolved; Berea, a short film produced by Puo Pha Production that highlights life in Johannesburg, particularly in the inner city flatland of Berea; and, Holy Man, a feature length documentary about Sheik Yusuf of Massakaar, a saint and religious leader who lived from 1626 to 1699, and who brought Islam to South Africa. Berea will be screened at the Rotterdam Film Festival.

Other projects it is supporting are Garden of Hope, a five-minute documentary about urban sustainability that looks at a community garden that was started in the derelict grounds of an abandoned school in Soweto and that is now a site of transformation and hope; My Zulu Wedding, a feature film produced by Luju Pictures and Productions about a young Zulu maiden that highlights the beauty of Zulu culture; Cooking with Azania, is food lifestyle programme for SABC3 that will explore South African food and culinary cultural heritage and influences; Gang Star, which is about three men and one woman on a quest for redemption; and Security, a 15-minute short film about a day in the life of a security guard who finds solace in an unlikely place.

Apart from the projects its supports, the commission also gives back to the community by means of its audience development programme. It has supported Kasi Movie Nights, a distribution platform that disseminates South Africa content. It runs monthly screenings from a truck that also serves as a marketing tool and as a data capturing method. It also provides training and mentorships.

Other GFC-supported projects are Bioscope at 20h00, which encourages the appreciation of local content through monthly screenings of local film; and First Wednesday Film Club, a casual networking forum and platform for exposure of African films, held on the first Wednesday of the month at Atlas Studios in Johannesburg. In addition to the films that have been selected, the audience can eat food from the country or region represented. Screenings are followed by question and answer sessions with the filmmaker.