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NY Film Festival Honors Anniversary of S. African Elections - 2004-04-29

A film festival honoring the tenth anniversary of democratic elections in South Africa opened in New York City this week. The festival features films from a new generation of South African filmmakers.

The "Ten Years of Freedom" film festival coincides with the 10th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's 1994 election, which heralded the end of apartheid and spurred the first decade of freedom in South Africa.

Sean Jacobs, festival director, says the festival showcases the work of emerging artists who have captured images of a new South Africa on film.

"It says what South Africa has achieved has politically been a remarkable event," he said. "It says people have got their dignity back. South Africa has all the political institutions in place, South Africa has human rights commissions, gender commissions, and it is all enshrined in the constitution. But at the same time, it says there is a disjuncture between the rights enshrined in the constitution and peoples' real lives."

Norman Maake is a 25-year-old filmmaker from Johannesburg. His films, Soldiers of the Rock and Home Sweet Home, are being shown during the festival.

He says both films capture the confusion and struggle in the black townships during the 1980's and early 1990's, when South Africa was on the brink of change.

"The transition to Mandela was coming, so I grew up between the two phases. The bad part and when South Africa was kind of changing, so I have seen it change," he said.

Mr. Maake says his film Home Sweet Home bears witness to his friends and neighbors trying to find their places in a free South Africa. "'Home Sweet Home' is about how everybody at the end of 1994, in terms of the black people in South Africa, sort of thought freedom was about, you know 'I'm going to get that big house I have always wanted, or that big car, I am going to get back what was taken away from me.' But of course, the process couldn't be like that. So you saw people become criminals, because they didn't have education and it's like that lost generation that didn't really start with the new system, but were part of the old system," he said.

Jonathan de Vries, a musician from the port city of Cape Town, says the new South Africa has also seen an explosion of artistic expression. His film, Casa de la Musica, documents a South African musician's tour through the jazz clubs of Havana, Cuba.

Mr. De Vries says he wanted to inspire South African musicians to explore their own musical roots, the way Cuban musicians have done. His film shows a musician connecting with other musicians in Havana, which has a similar tradition and a history of slavery.

"I kind of proved a feeling I had that a Cape Town guy would be able to land on his feet immediately at the musical level with the Cubans, which he did," he said. "He was able to automatically slip into the groove, improvise, and connect, without even being able to speak the same language in words."

Director Portia Rankoane, 41, says that along with all the positive changes in South Africa during the last 10 years came the spread of HIV/AIDS.

She says she made the film, Red Ribbon Around My House, after she met one woman in her township of Soweto who was bravely battling several diseases, including cancer and HIV.

"I wanted to (talk) about fear, you know, to show people that whatever disease they have you can still lead your life no matter what, so in the film, Pinky does exactly that. With all the three diseases, she still enjoys her life. She lives a life like anybody else. I had to show people that there is still life behind HIV," she said.

The festival features 43 films over six nights and includes documentaries, features, and animation, highlighting the works of South Africa's newest filmmakers.