DIFF at 40: An interview with festival manager Chipo Zhou

by Nkululeko Zilibokwe

Festival manager Chipo Zhou

With the 40th season underway and judging from all the excitement in the air, DIFF’s 40th year will be one for the books. The International Durban Film Festival is one of Africa’s key film events and an important springboard for talent in Africa. We put 5 questions to Chipo Zhou, the festival manager on what the Durban Film Festival means in 2019.

What is the focus of the festival in 2019

40 consecutive years is indeed a great achievement by any standard, and so to be a custodian of an institution such as this is a great honour. The focus this year is looking at films from the African continent, by Africans and Africans in the diaspora. We’re committed to showcasing local film, and we’re so happy to see that both the opening and closing films are South African. We’ve also signed the 50/50 by 20/20 global campaign which focuses on building women in film, not only on screens but behind the scenes too.

The quality of films at the festival

The creatives are pushing boundaries and I am always overwhelmed by the number of high quality submissions we receive. The programmers can attest to what a daunting task it is cutting down the selections. We had over 950 documentary submissions, covering a broad range of themes and topics. This year’s competition selection, interestingly, is mostly focussed on individual journeys, many around young people having to navigate intensely disrupted and relentlessly painful spaces, as well as the issues that gender, race and culture present in this ever-changing, and often alienating world.

The opening film

We are very excited to be opening our 40th edition with this gritty, raw film. This is a film which we believe will do very well as a cinema release, with boxing as the means to tell the story, and its multi-layered narrative will resonate with audiences globally. We believe the film is a tangible manifestation of the evolution of the South African narrative, a slice of life in a largely undocumented corner of the country.

What inspired the theme for 2019

Speaking your truth. We have so many differences in our lives and our contexts are very different. There is so much pressure for people to not be themselves. The thinking behind the theme was to challenge the group of talents we have this year to really dig deep into themselves and find what it is they are trying to say their audience.

What initiatives has the festival set up to encourage film production?

The festival is very keen to discover new talent and act as a springboard for creation in Africa. Initiatives like the Talents Durban are open to African screenwriters and directors, with animation, fiction, documentary or hybrid projects in development. The five-day event consists of workshops, discussions, screenings, and programmes for specific disciplines. The initiative also includes Talent Press, a co-operation with FIPRESCI and the Goethe-Institut, which hosts mentorship for emerging film critics.