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Important South African Film that Combines Sport with Politics



One of most talked-about films in S. Africa today.

 One of the most talked-about contemporary  films  from South Africa, is ‘Otelo Burning ’, which combines sport, racism, politics, family and peer  relationships with gentle but awesome power.

It will have a special screening at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT),in  Bangkok .

 The film is the debut feature of Sara Blecher, who has made many noteworthy TV dramas and docu films.These include Surfing Soweto and Kobus And Dumile,  for which she won CNN’s  African Journalist of the Year Award.

 ‘Otelo Burning’  is a story about a group of boys  from a poor township, who discover the joys of surfing, generally considered a White man’s sport. Otelo displays maximum talent, and soon wins a major competition, as well as a large monetary award. He attracts the attention of the sultry Dezi,who falls in love with him. Life could not be better.

But this is South Africa, where decades of racism cannot be wiped out easily. On the day that Nelson Mandela is released from his long incarcenation in jail, the young Otelo realises that the problems have not ended in his country,and he himself has to pay a price, for his success.

 The film was created over a period of seven years, during a workshop with the youngsters of  Lamontville ,where the film was shot. Many of the kids played out their real-life roles on screen .

The movie was the Opening Film of the Durban International Film Festival, and since then, has been seen at more than 50 festivals around the world, including Seattle, Busan, Dubai, India.

It will soon be released in 20 cities, including Armenia, Palestine, Qatar, Ethiopia, and many European cities.


 Excerpts  from an Interview  with  Director Sara Blecher:

Is this your first feature film-?

I have been making documentaries and TV drama for the last twenty years.  ‘Otelo Burning’ is my first feature film.

Why is the protagonist called  'Otelo'-?

The story of our film is the story about greed, jealousy ,betrayal-  just like Shakespeare’s Othello.
Are the actors non-professionals?

They are a mix of both. Many play out their real-life roles, in the film.

How would you describe the film?

As a cross between City of God and Blue Crush.  Otelo Burning is an emotional coming-of-age story about township kids learning to surf. Set against the backdrop of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, it looks at the enormous potential for change, at the time of apartheid's downfall. But it’s also the story of greed, betrayal and jealousy- a metaphor for a nation grappling with its own freedom

How did the story come about?

The film was in development for over seven years. Like City of God, the story came out of an extensive workshop process conducted with a group of people in Lamontville, near Durban, where the story is set. The workshop brought together a group of ex-gangsters, builders, lifeguards and swimmers, who had all been participants in the story upon which the film is based. As a result, the story is infused with realism. The actors inhabit their characters completely.

Is that why the film has touched so many people ?

I think this is because I belong to a new group of young film-makers, who have honed our skills on the streets of violence-wracked townships and low-budget drama sets. We are  telling stories in a more direct and authentic way that allows universal truths to emerge more convincingly.

The film has many lush scenes, and also some hard ,gritty scenes -?

We wanted this combination. The surfing scenes were marvellously shot by  Lance Gewer, who  was the one who shot the Oscar-winning film ‘Tsotsi ’. Along with his enormous talent he also brought with him valuable experience that was a great support to me as a first- time feature director. We used water in a number of dramatic turning points, as a metaphor for the threshold that the characters cross from one world into another. Many of the other scenes were shot with a hand-held camera on location in KwaZulu Natal, to give the story the gritty realism of life in the township .

You have used music very strongly too-?

Yes, we used original scores, comprising music that captured the spirit of the time, and also new, modern tracks to give the story a contemporary edge

How was the film been received in Africa, and other countries-?

Thanks to the language of the film being Zulu, many audiences in Africa could totally connect with it. The film has done incredibly well all around the world. In the next few months, it will be playing in numerous cities across the world. I must admit I’m thrilled and honoured by this.

Have you been to Bangkok?

No. It’s a city I’ve long wanted to visit. I’m very happy that my film is being screened there.


 Excerpts of interveiw,  published in ' Bangkok Post.' (27 Sep,2012)




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I'm an Indian film-writer, based in Bangkok, and write for publications in India & Thailand. I also coordinate and curate film programs in the two countries, at cultural centres/clubs, film festivals.



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