Jozi Film Festival
The people behind Johannesburg’s first film festival. From left, Ryan Laverick, judge; Elaine Thorne, judge and volunteer, Shareen Anderson, organiser; Brendon Burmester, organiser; Joanne Garland, volunteer; and Lisa Henry, organiser.

Andy Stead

Johannesburg finally has a major film festival of its own, with the first annual Jozi Film Festival, which ended on Sunday 12 February, attracting industry professionals, a growing arts community and a large contingent of students.

The highlight of the three-day event was the awards ceremony held on the Saturday night at the offbeat venue of the Kensington Club in Johannesburg’s oldest suburb. The festival’s other venue was the Bioscope independent cinema in the city centre.

A showcase for a diverse mix of narrative, documentary and animated South African films, the festival also offered free question-and-answer filmmaking workshops with filmmakers in attendance.

Competition categories included Best Feature Film, Best Documentary Film, Best Animated Film, Best Fiction and Non Fiction Short, Best Mobile Phone Film, Best Student Film, and Audience Choice Award.

Kicking off the festival on the Friday night at the Bioscope was the South African premiere of Akin Omotoso’s Man On Ground, which took home Best Feature Film of the festival at the awards ceremony. Rosie Motene, a producer on the film, had this to say after the awards: “Finally, a festival of our own! What a pleasure it was to have our South African premiere at the first Jozi Film Festival. To win our first award made it even more special. Thank you to the organisers for seeing the need to showcase and celebrate South African films.”

The Short Fiction Festival on the Saturday at the Bioscope proved very popular, with people without tickets to the sold-out event being happy to stand or sit on extra chairs brought in to the cinema. Films screened at this mini festival included Bianca Bothma’s Constructing Jo’burg, Justin Sandmann’s Ticket eSandleni, Stephen Abbott’s Dirty Laundry, Henco J’s Unusual Predicament and Singing in Kliptown by the Eat My Dust Collective, which won the short film category at the awards.

The full list of awards:

  • Best Student Film Award: E-lectrity. Director: Mikles Manneke. AFDA
  • Best Fiction Film Short: Singing In Kliptown. Eat My Dust Collective
  • Best Documentary Film: My Hunter’s Heart. Directors: Craig Foster and Damon Foster
  • Best Animated Film: Tengers. Director: Michael Rix
  • Best Feature Film: Man On Ground. Director: Akin Omotoso
  • Audience Choice Award: The First Grader. Director: Justin Chadwick.

The GFC spoke to festival organiser Brendon Burmester about lessons learned from the event.

GFC: Were you happy with the venues you chose? Are you likely to change them next year?

Burmester: Both the Bioscope independent cinema and the Kensington Club were great venues. We wanted to hold the festival in a well-known venue like the Bioscope for visibility and then to include Kensington to bring the festival to people who wouldn’t usually have such an event in their area.

Next year we’ll to try to keep it at the Bioscope and then to look at some of the theatres in Johannesburg and find a venue in Soweto. This is part of our aim to extend the festival into township areas.

GFC: Who was behind the festival?

Burmester: The organisers were myself, Lisa Henry and Shareen Anderson. We saw the need for Johannesburg to have its own festival, showcasing the amazing talent we have in this city along with giving local film makers an accessible platform for their work

GFC: How many films were entered?

Burmester: In excess of 40 films were submitted, with 27 finally selected and shown at the festival.

GFC: And the entry criteria?

Burmester: The films had to be made about Johannesburg by Gauteng filmmakers, or films made by Gauteng filmmakers about the topic of their choice.

GFC: Anything you would change next year?

Burmester: We intend to extend the festival weekend to weekend, incorporating more mini film festivals into the main festival. We want to improve on marketing and present a more professional image from the point of view of printed programmes, make more information available on the films being shown at each venue and to work harder at drawing in a greater student and youth audience.

GFC: Any final words?

Burmester: It was great to see how the festival was embraced by people across the spectrum. At the opening ceremony held at the Bioscope we had Capoeira Dancers entertaining us; then a group of kids saw what was happening and started their own show, so we had some great impromptu entertainment on the side.

We also had a Dr Duma from the University of the Free State who heard about the festival and about a month before began to make regular contact with us to get full details. He made a point of coming to the festival from the start to the finish and watched as many films as he possibly could fit in to one weekend.