A glimpse into the narratives that need questioning – The European Film Festival 2017

From the 5th to the 14th of May, Joburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town will be host the annual European film festival. Coordinated by the Goethe-Institut in South Africa these cities will get to experience the exceptional work from the European continent at Ster-kinekor’s Cinema Nouveau. The festival’s director Katrina Hedrén mentions how this year’s festival offers “a diverse and exciting program, spanning topics from animal and eco-rights to activism, family dynamics, displacement and experiences of war”.

With films covering 12 European countries, the festival provides South Africans with a glimpse into the variety of narratives from the North.

This year’s festival organizers plan to offer “another year of highly creative output and filmmakers [that] continue to produce works that challenge, uproot and allow audiences to take on new perspectives”. The opening film for the festival was in line with this goal. American honey tells the story of Krystal, a young woman who is seduced by the freedom of the open road in the form of a traveling magazine subscription sales troupe. With a heavy heart she reluctantly leaves a home where she looks after children who are not her own with parents uninterested in the task. She herself has to learn the art of selling magazine subscriptions and the cruel use of an insincere concern for those they sell to.

Set in the US this film is directed by the Acclaimed British director Andrea Arnold who depicts an America from the perspective of the outsider’s protagonist in search of her own substantial meaning. She and her peers live in a harsh world that tells them that they have no place in it. American Honey in this regard is a must see in terms of its documentary style shots of a beautiful American landscape touched only by the open road. Arnold has managed to create a portrait of the intimate pain that comes with seeking a family, and the cost to the self that one must face in order to find acceptance.

Honey is a significant account of the struggle for the self in the US and its story is being told by a non-American director. Our heroine is a dark skinned sister traveling in one of the most conservative towns in the city, and yet it is only the queer young boy who speaks of his fear in working the neighborhood. Our challenge as viewers then becomes one to search for the stories untold within the stories. What are Honey’s fears not spoken in this tale?

A movie which I am most eager to see at the festival is the Dutch produced feature film Strike a Pose which tells the story of the backup dancers behind Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour during the 90s. Here we see queer bodies being given a platform to show themselves to the world as strong, gay and unafraid during the times when being such meant being at risk to rampant homophobia. Yet behind the stage lights were young men experiencing constant violence and their emotional vulnerabilities from the intense pain from losing family and friends to the HIV/Aids epidemic.

Our job as movie goers is to search for the stories within the stories, where we are given a brief glimpse into what it means to be on the outside. Yet such narratives cannot be understood in terms of representation but are about who gets to write and make those stories. As viewers we must seek those stories which hold meaning to us as black bodies within movies which seek to tell stories that speak about the human experience.

For more information on the festival including screening times and other movies on show visit the festival’s webpage. You can also follow the festival updates on their Facebook pages set up for each of the cities – Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town.

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