Maverick Life


Local films and documentaries at the South African Film Festival in Australia

Local films and documentaries at the South African Film Festival in Australia
South African Film Festival in-cinema screenings are from 4 to 11 May and online screenings globally are from 11 to 31 May.

Australia and New Zealand’s fifth South African Film Festival is under way. Here’s our list of selected films to keep on your radar.

The South African Film Festival (SAFF) is a hybrid event with in-cinema screenings and online screenings from 11 to 31 May; unfortunately, the screenings are geo-blocked and only available to viewers located in Australia and New Zealand – still, it is a wonderful celebration of a wide variety of curated South African films, from hard-hitting documentaries to heart-warming short films, blockbuster features and personal stories.

If you’re based in Australia or New Zealand, a festival pass which gives full access to the entire catalogue for the duration of the festival costs A$100 and net proceeds go to Education Without Borders (EWB) which has been providing educational programmes for students from underresourced and socially disadvantaged communities in the Western Cape since 2002. 


Maverick Life editors Emilie Madeleine Gambade and Malibongwe Tyilo empathically salute South Africa’s courageous women of journalism in this potent 30-minute documentary. 

Interviews with investigative reporters Ferial Haffajee, Marianne Thamm, Pauli van Wyk and Caryn Dolley lay bare the enormous strength of spirit that it takes to continue to write about corruption, crime in high places and state collusion; especially as women, who suffer disproportionate attacks on all fronts – hate speech on social media, death threats, smear campaigns and calls for action from influential politicians with millions of followers. 

Horrifying as this reality is, the fierce irreverence of these leading reporters in defence of truth is utterly inspiring and the vulnerability of their stories imparts a deeper appreciation of just how crucial their work is to the fabric of our democracy. Read Daily Maverick’s full review


A simple but charming recreation of the musical and political atmosphere of Sharpeville, embodied in the life of a fictional Miriam Makeba-inspired young woman. The period drama follows Lindi, a retired singer who breaks the isolation of her retirement to shed light on the murder of an apartheid-era police officer, when his remains turn up in Sharpeville after 60 years. 

The film is split between scenes of young Lindi (played by Zandile Madliwa of The Kissing Booth) in the bustling jazz scene of Sophiatown, and old Lindi (played by South African soapie veteran Ivy Nkutha of Muvhango, Isidingo, and Generations) recounting her youth to the detective investigating the case. 

1960 works hard to recreate the energy and aesthetic of the era in its costume design and its set, inhabited by characters whose suffering can be located and related to rather than unchanging photographs in a textbook. Often overacted and overly cautious with its depiction of the atrocities of apartheid, 1960 seems to invite children as well as adults to engage with this part of South African history. Read Daily Maverick’s full review.

You’re My Favourite Place

In case you missed it at DIFF 2022. South African director Jahmil X.T. Qubeka ventures into new territory, exploring his past and a struggle to accept himself in a South Africa which is still a harsh, violent place to inhabit as a young black person. Tumie Ngumla plays a young girl from East London coming to terms with her sister’s death, who, on the last day of high school, steals a taxi and hits the road with three friends on a road trip to the remote landmark of Hole in the Wall, where Xhosa legend has it you can talk to the dead. With moments of melancholic beauty and reflection, it’s a journey that will change the course of their lives forever. 

Music is My Life

A documentary on the African icon Dr Joseph Shabalala and the beautiful music he left echoing through our cultural history. The time that director Mpumi Supa Mbele spent with Shabalala before his death imparted a desire to pay tribute to the legacy he left behind. 

Featuring 10 of his songs that embody some of his many experiences as well as several new songs he recorded in his waning days that have not been heard before, the film tells the story of the pivotal milestones in Shabalala’s life, from the 1940s to the present day, that saw him overcome adversity to follow his dream and spread his rare vocal style, rooted in the Zulu nation, to the rest of the world. 

Valley of a Thousand Hills

A simmering same-sex romance is set in a patriarchal rural community in KwaZulu-Natal. It’s the tale of forbidden love, as old as humanity itself, but told in the distinct South African context of conservative tribal tradition. Nosipho and Thenjiwe’s passionate secret relationship is severed when Nosipho is forced to marry a man and Thenjiwe is banished to stay with a sangoma so that her “demons” may be exorcised. Director Bonie Sithebe’s portrayal of the local nuances of Zulu culture is a call to “move beyond the burying of human rights violations under the guise of tradition, culture and ‘respect’”.


A 26-minute film set in the stark, bleached plains of the Kalahari desert that subtly explores the implications of diamond mining in the ancestral lands of the San (Bushmen). Boetie, a frustrated young man from the village where the San have been resettled, crosses paths in the desert with a San elder hunting gemsbok in the traditional way, with poison arrows. 

The gun-wielding Boetie ignores the older man’s warning and sets out into the Kalahari’s diamond fields, which are posted with a stark warning to trespassers. There he has a stroke of good luck, but fortune swiftly turns against him as he becomes the hunted. Is Boetie running from himself, or from life in the settlement, which he had hoped to escape?

Mission Joy

Academy Award-winning director Louie Psihoyos teams up with co-director Peggy Callahan on Mission: Joy – Finding Happiness in Troubled Times, a documentary about the extraordinary public friendship of two religious leaders from different worlds: Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. The exuberant, playful old pair set out on a final joint mission to spread the gospel of joy rooted in neuroscience-backed wisdom as well as their faith and encourage solidarity between all peoples. 

Expect what it says on the tin – torrential optimism, recounted anecdotes full of pearls of wisdom, a heap of laughing and teasing, and somewhat naively simplistic calls for cooperation and forgiveness. The pair’s genuine affection and mutual respect is infectiously heart-warming, but His “Holiness” The Dalai Lama’s recent, arguably abusive, public humiliation of a small child pours a sickening vignette over the whole film, particularly in chilling moments when the Arch reminds him that he is a monk or remarks “shhh, the cameras are on us”. DM/ML

Disclosure: Tevya Turok Shapiro is a team member of Daily Maverick and works directly with Emilie Gambade and Malibongwe Tyilo, the directors of Section 16.


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