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SA movie on fake news heads for Sundance fest

Filmmakers and journalists Richard Poplak and Diana Neille will be the first South African directors to compete in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the film showcase in Park City, Utah, this month.

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Influence, a feature-length documentary film charting the rise and fall of the infamous London-based PR firm Bell Pottinger, will make its international debut at the 2020 edition of the Sundance Film Festival, on 27 January.

The film serves as a terrifying reminder of the dangers that lurk within the post-truth era, in which masters of misinformation use new digital tools to wage ancient propaganda wars — undermining the fabric of democratic societies. The film is co-directed by Diana Neille and Daily Maverick’s journalist-provocateur Richard Poplak.

According to the Sundance Institute, submissions reached a record high of 15,100, of which 3,853 were feature films. Among those, only 29% were created by female filmmakers.

Influence takes its cue from the #GuptaLeaks, a trove of emails investigated by a team from Daily Maverick, amaBhungane and News24. In mid-2017, they exposed Bell Pottinger’s role in engineering a racially divisive PR campaign designed to benefit the notorious Gupta family, and by extension former president Jacob Zuma. Several months later, due to unrelenting pressure from the media, civil society, opposition politicians and South African citizens, the once-unbeatable multinational was forced to close its doors. It was a David and Goliath tale of ordinary people facing off against a powerful corporation with near-infinite resources — an imbalance that has become all too familiar globally.

Neille says: “After following the story deep into the roots of modern geopolitical spin-doctoring, we discovered the fingerprints of Bell Pottinger’s founder, Lord Timothy Bell, on many of the world’s most formative political campaigns. We felt that if our viewers comprehensively travelled Bell’s journey since the 1970s, we would end up telling the story of influence and how it helped establish what we now call the post-truth era. It’s the context in which so many democracies around the world are now floundering.”

Influence is produced by Neil Brandt of Storyscope (SA) and Bob Moore of EyeSteelFilm (Canada). It is a South African/Canadian co-production, with backing from the Blue Ice Docs, Hot Docs Partners Fund, the Rogers Cable Network Fund, the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles, the National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa, and Canada Media Fund. Broadcast rights are currently held by Arte (France/Germany), documentary Channel (Canada) and eTV (SA). Cinetic Media is handling world sales.

Brandt says: “As storytellers from the Global South who have always tried to speak truth to power, Storyscope was immediately drawn to the fact that Influence puts a uniquely African narrative at the centre of a global debate around the nature of truth in a world in which fact and fiction appear interchangeable. As Leonard Cohen put it, ‘there are cracks in everything — that’s how the light gets in’.”

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The horror! First Showmax Original movie for SA

The first ever Showmax Original movie, Rage, has arrived in South Africa this week, with its sights firmly set on fans of horror movies.

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The story revolves a group of school-leavers who descend on a tiny coastal town to celebrate their freedom. It is clearly inspired by the Rage festival that goes down in December ever year at various South African coastal resort towns, in an annual display of drunken and disorderly behaviour by teenagers who have just completed their final year of school.

Roxy, Sihle, Kyle, Leon, Tamsyn and Neo party on the beach and drink themselves silly every night. Two townsfolk, Hermien and her son Albert, are welcoming – too welcoming. To make matters even weirder, the 70-something Hermien is heavily pregnant. 

On a psychedelic trip on the beach, the friends witness a disturbing birth ritual, which could be a hallucination, or not. Soon, fertility figurines start to appear at random places. What is supposed to be the best holiday of their lives, turns to horror as the teenagers are picked off … one by one.

Rage is directed by Jaco Bouwer, a multi-award-winning theatre director who’s one of three Best Director nominees in the drama series category at the 2020 SAFTAs, for Dwaalster. His short film, this country is lonely, premiered at International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2018. He also directed Die Spreeus, one of the 10 most-watched local series on Showmax in 2019.

Nicole Fortuin, whose previous film, Flatland, opened the Berlin Panorama, stars as Tamsyn. The Girl From St Agnes’ breakout stars Jane de Wet and Tristan de Beer are Roxy and Kyle; two-time Silwerskerm winner Carel Nel (Dwaalster, Hum, Slaaf) is Albert; Sihle Mnqwazana, who co-wrote and acted in The Fall, a New York Times critic’s choice play, plays Neo; Shalima Mkongi (IsithembisoNkululekoKeeping Score) is Sihle; and Fiesta, Kanna and Fleur du Cape nominee David Viviers (Kanarie) plays Leon.

Rage is available to stream now on Showmax.

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Netflix premieres its first Saudi animation

Masameer the Movie, the first Saudi animation on Netflix, is based on a popular YouTube series.

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Netflix has started streaming Masameer the Movie, the first Saudi animated movie. It is based on a popular YouTube series that has captured the imagination of its audience for years, also produced by Myrkott. 

Following its success in theatres, Netflix is now streaming the movie with subtitles in over 30 languages, making it available to more than 167 million viewers in 190 countries. 

The Saudi animation sees Dana, a Saudi girl with a passion for robots and artificial intelligence, embark on a journey to create good in the world, using robotics. Meanwhile, three friends, Saad, Saltooh and Kalb, hit rock bottom and go on a journey of their own to prove themselves to society, by becoming crime-fighting superheroes. 

Masameer the Movie is directed by Malik Nejer and produced by Abdul Aziz AlMuzaini. Voiceover artists include Abdulaziz AlShehri, Mazroa AlMazroa, Ibraheem AlKhairallah, Shahad AlAhmari and Yusuf AlDakhil. 

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