Behind the South African Festival

May 10, 2020 by Henry Benjamin
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Claire Jankelson and Di Singer are the directors of the South African Film Festival. Claire answers questions for J-Wire.

Claire Jankelson with Festival Co-Director Di Singer

Claire has lived in Sydney for 26 years.

JW: Were you involved in cinema in South Africa?

Claire: I’m a management academic with an interest in the engagement with actual experience – with how things really are – which is what stimulates my interest in film – the telling of good stories is where we find that the truth resides (a strange irony, don’t you think). What brings me to this work is really the value of supporting a significant mentoring organization called Education without Borders operating in the Western Cape. And am really so delighted that it’s the medium of film, especially SA film, that is offering the vehicle for fundraising.

JW: Which film do you think offers the greatest insight into South Africa to those who have never visited the country?

Claire: It’s not any one film that will give you insight into the South African culture, its vibrancy and people. Each film has a distinct look into different cultural practices in South Africa and is set against various backdrops, from townships to small communities in rural areas, and from a more historical perspective to current everyday society. We are so enthusiastic about every single film (only 10 carefully chosen feature/documentary films)

It’s the authenticity of the characters in these stories and their surroundings that makes each film uniquely South African.

The one film that really embraces the courage and determination of young people in South Africa, is Beyond Moving, the story of a young ballet dancer discovered in a remote township. With significant challenges especially cultural ones and leaving his family behind from a young age, he enters the world of professional dancing in Canada, our own “Billy Elliot” story.

JW: Have there ever been films produced in South Africa dealing with the Jewish themes?

Claire: This is not a Jewish festival and we are not using films that specifically address South African Jewish people and their issues or pasts. However, being about South Africa, especially post-apartheid, we do find that there are many amazing SA directors some of who are Jewish and who appear to bring a particular conscience and sensitivity and artistry to their film making. And they are featured. Also, there are quite a few Jewish people on the committee who continue to share the love of film and also the value of contributing to their ‘old’ country, especially to an educational cause. You may say that some of these attributes have come about through our Jewish backgrounds.

JW: For how many years has the festival been running?

Claire: This is the 2nd and I was involved last year too.

JW: Have any of the films been awarded International awards?

Claire: Most of our films were released in 2019 so have not been subjected to international scrutiny. However, both Buddha in Africa and Flatland received international acclaim at a few documentary festivals. Indeed Flatland played at last years SIFF.

JW: How does it feel to present the films online?

Claire: Quite an adventure to manage the marketing and the technology. After last year’s festival, we had many people longing to see the films – people from other parts of Australia. Now they are being satisfied which is wonderful.

JW: Will any of the films lose any impact on being seen on a small screen?

Claire: We’re hoping that people will manage the technology of screen sharing and thereby be able to watch on their smart TVs. Clearly films like Beyond Moving and Flatland lend themselves to the big screen – beautiful cinematography of country and of big stage dance. Many of the films will be fine on smaller tablets or computers

JW: Which is your favourite?

Claire: Actually each of them has become a favourite. Each is telling a different significant story and powerfully reflecting aspects of  South Africa either today or back in Apartheid days. The music of Johnny Clegg, the history of the Space theatre, the cultural dispossession of Buddha in Africa, Beyond Moving, Fiela se Kind, the thrilling nature of Back of the Moon and Knuckle City. The impossible story of state looting in How to Steal a Country!

What: Sydney South African Film Festival 2020 Virtual program
When: Saturday 16 May to Tuesday 26 May 2020
Where: online at
Tickets: $8.00 single screening. $60.00 for full 10 film program.

Inspired by Festival partners in Vancouver and Toronto: Vancouver South African Film Festival and Toronto South African Film Festival – We are all supporting Education without Borders (EwB), a foundation operating in SA since 2002.


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