For kykNET‘s Silwerskemfees 2015 at the Bay Hotel I went armed with a tiny moleskin, a power bank and the Bechdel Test. The latter might sound petty to anyone not a feminist, so you might get very annoyed or have fun hate reading. There are three components in the Bechdel Test: 1. The movie has to have at least have two women, 2. that speak to each other, 3. about something other than a man. Seems simple but you’d be surprised how many films fail to meet even the second requirement. According to The Guardian the “pass rate” in the international industry dropped 12% in 2014 to only 55.4%.
Even though it’s technically possible to see all the feature and short films at the 4 day Silwerskermfees, the emotional toll (and having a day job) limited my viewings. Therefore all the ‘scores’ relate only to the films mentioned and not the festival as a whole.
‘n Man Soos My Pa
The set design in ‘n Man Soos My Pa is so rich it feels 3D. It was as if a second designer walked through each set adding at least another 5 items, recreating that authentic kitschy Afrikana style.
In a panel discussion a few days later Uitvlucht filmmaker Reghard van den Berg cited the effect a strong actor can have in raising the game of the entire cast. The effect of Sandra Prinsloo, and a lesser extent Albert Maritz, was undeniable on the cast of n Man Soos My Pa.
I realised that applying the Bechdel test is not as simple as yes and no. In terms of representation the film is fairly split in half. The women do speak to each other, but like almost every other conversation in the film it’s a about a ‘pa’ which is the central theme.
A coming of age surf movie, showing how doing what one loves can drag one out of a dark place. The highlights of the film are the surfing scenes and whenever the Bennie Fourie (Hermann) and his perfect one-liners got screen time (except when he was surfing).
A Bechdel Test (BT) rating of 2, with sadly very weak female characters.
Sink is purely driven by the emotion on Shoki Mokgaba’s face. This is highlighted by the minimal use of score in the first half of the film, only using amplified sounds of the environment such as the Kreepy Krauly ‘breaching’ the pool and the weather elements. The method of splashing most of the online communication on the screen like the UK series Sherlock Holmes is clean and easy to read.
Sink and Uitvlucht were the only two films (I saw) that passed the Bechdel test outright.
For me short films are the soul of the Silwerskermfees. Some filmmakers use their 20 odd minutes as a jumping-off point to bigger things, for others it’s a way to finance a passion project. While some of the shorts will be shown on kykNET, it is still less mainstream than the features that are released commercially. For this reason I decided to save viewing one of the biggest films at the festival, Dis ek, Anna, for when it is released at the end of October and spend my Friday watching short films.
Another hitch when using the Bechdel test in its pure form came in revealing the shorts as many of them have a small handful of) characters.
Three short films in particular made a big impression on me:
“When you’re young change (kleingeld in Afrikaans) is worth a lot, much like your first love. But as you get older notes hold more value, just like your true love. “
With this lovely unassuming sentiment Gambit Films smashes the boy meets girl formula of the romcom genre and give it a quirky update. The story is augmented by whimsical nerdtastic graphics.
Dearest Elle is the worthy winner in the Best Existing Short Film category at the Silwerskerm Awards. Elle (Jenna Dunster) is stuck in a routine and a crush. It reminds me of how Jane Austen describes Pride and Prejudice, ‘Light, bright and sparkling” BT: Not applicable as there’s only 1 character and a tiny cameo.
Written and directed by Wim Steytler Skewe Reënboog looks at the life of an autistic shut-in (Gavin van den Berg) caught up in the idealism of the Rainbow Nation. The film is set against the striking backdrop of Santarama Miniland. The score of the film is beautiful silence, letting the audience decide for themselves what they’re feeling, politics is after all a topic that can either get people to get fired up or clam up.
BT: 2, quite remarkable as most conversations were between the autistic man and statues.
Though every film (I saw) had some level of representation at the Silwerskermfees, it was fascinating that the only other production that passed the Bechdel Test outright was the documentary Vat Die Rap. Legendary South African musicians were paired with local Afrikaans rappers to give their treffers a reboot. The music industry is notoriously skewed towards men, and let’s not even go into the misogyny of rap, the inclusion of Rina Hugo and YOMA (pronounced Jou ma in Afrikaans*) was a positive step in the right direction.
Feminism is not a swearword, it’s not about hating men, it is about equality. Maybe I’m also caught up in the idealism of the Rainbow Nation when I say filmmakers have the power to crack the patriarchal society we live in, and with the power of kykNET it can be done in more than one taal . What a wonderful potential the Silwerskermfees can still tap into.
*Best rap name ever.