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Movie of the Week

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.



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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Movie of the Week

Frozen 2 breaks SA box office

The highly-anticipated sequel, Frozen 2, has broken Box Office records for the biggest opening for an animated release in South African Box Office history.



In its first weekend, 6-8 December 2019, cinema-going audiences across South Africa felt the warmth and lit up the local Box Office, flocking to see the much-anticipated next adventure of Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven in Frozen 2. In so doing, they delivered the film to the top of the box office – and into the record books.

With over 150 000 attendances, the film debuted with more than R13-million over the weekend, making Frozen 2 the biggest ever opening for an animated release in South African Box Office history.

Frozen 2 poses the questions: Why was Elsa born with magical powers? What truths about the past await Elsa as she ventures into the unknown to the enchanted forests and dark seas beyond Arendelle? 

The answers are calling her but also threatening her kingdom. Together with Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven, she’ll face a dangerous but remarkable journey. In Frozen, Elsa feared her powers were too much for the world. In Frozen 2, she must hope they are enough. 

From the Academy Award-winning team—directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, producer Peter Del Vecho and songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez—and featuring the voices of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad, Frozen 2 is now in cinemas across the continent.

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Skywalker falls and rises

The final episode of the 9-part Star Wars saga delivers, but not always on time, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK



It’s impossible to talk about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker without any spoilers. So let’s get a few out of the way:

The movie is in many ways a memorial to Carrie Fisher, with recycled footage cleverly manipulated to give her a central role in the story. Her end is transformed from tragedy to a moment of beauty.

Emperor Palpatine is back, as hinted in the trailer and the opening crawl text, and there is nothing beautiful about his return. It is probably not a spoiler to say that some of the worst clichés of monster movies are invoked in his name.

Droid abuse is a thing. As we know from the trailers, C3PO faces an uncertain destiny, but remember that he isn’t the only droid we’re looking out for. Expect this movie to inspire some kind of Droid Anti-Cruelty League, since droids certainly were hurt in its making – both physically and emotionally.

Oh, and C3PO looks great in a hoodie.

For the rest, it doesn’t give anything away to state that R2D2 can still only process information via something resembling a 1980s 8-track cassette. In a galaxy far, far away, flash drives haven’t been invented, not to mention wireless data transfer. And every kid on Tatooine or Yavin doesn’t grow up coding, so you have to fly to distant planets to find a hacker.

The rest of the humans are far less interesting, although Chewbacca’s instills real heart in some of them. The main characters lurch from one Star Wars cliché to another, miraculously escaping being hit by stormtroopers, regardless of the number of adversaries, weaponry at their disposal, or whether they are running to or from their adversaries.

That’s another way of saying, this is classic Star Wars, representing a breathlessly entertaining two hours and 20 minutes rollercoaster ride.  For die-hard fans, it’s a fitting climax to the saga – although even that statement could be a spoiler, given that it implies a satisfying ending in the eternal war between rebels and empire. But then, the very last spoken line of the movie is its true climax, delivering the full meaning of the episode title, and making it worth remaining seated to the end.

In many ways, the final episode invokes the original trilogy, drawing heavily on both its mythology and its iconic scenes. That, too, will sit well with the fans, but tends to undermine the solemnity of some of the scenes. Not that this is meant to be a solemn movie, aside from the odd death or two. It does attempt to tie up all the loose ends, but leaves a few dangling.

The most intriguing of these is probably the saga of Temiri Blagg. Okay, maybe not a saga, but it could have been. He’s the slave kid from The Last Jedi who had to sweep the stables on Canto Bight, when he used the force to bring the broom to him. Fan expectations for him were high, given his role in the climax of Episode VIII.

Well, expect both shocking revelations and the shocking destruction of fan theories – including those about Rey’s parentage. But don’t expect FN-2187, aka Finn, to overcome his inability to communicate his feelings. To anyone. Love triangles are so, like, episodes IV to VI. 

Do expect awe-inspiring landscapes, planetscapes and formations both natural and unnatural, which demand watching the movie on the big screen. The production designers also deserve applause for the gritty, retro realism they invest in every battle-scarred spaceship and weatherworn landspeeder.

The awe falls apart when the sky is filled with such vehicles, and the CGI teams don’t cover themselves in glory in such scenes. The terrible beauty of a giant ship going to its doom trivialises spaceship crowd scenes.

For critical viewers, delivery will feel a little like the prehistoric times before same-day fulfilment: a little stuck in the past. As a visual spectacle, however, the movie delivers on all expectations.

  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens in cinemas in South Africa and around the world today, 20 December 2019. 
  • It stars the late Carrie Fisher, along with Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, with Ian McDiarmid and Billy Dee Williams.
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Abrams and Michelle Rejwan. Callum Greene, Tommy Gormley and Jason McGatlin serve as executive producers. It was written by J.J. Abrams & Chris Terrio.

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