SARAFINA! gets another standing ovation in Cannes, 31 years later
South African film, SARAFINA! has received another standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival… 31 years after it first premiered at the prestigious festival on the French Riviera. Watch below. “It was the best reaction!” producer Anant Singh told SAPeople at a beach event afterwards. There were tears shed by the international audience as the […]
South African film, SARAFINA! has received another standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival… 31 years after it first premiered at the prestigious festival on the French Riviera. Watch below.
“It was the best reaction!” producer Anant Singh told SAPeople at a beach event afterwards.
There were tears shed by the international audience as the iconic film was screened in the Cannes Classics section, with praise heaped on Anant and star Leleti Khumalo who were in Cannes for the historical moment, the first time a South African film has been officially invited to the festival twice.
“At the same time, in the theatre next to us they were showing a (classic) film of Jean-Luc Godard – you’re in the company of the kings of the film industry of the world. So it was an honour to be there,” says Anant. “It’s a dream come true for all of us.”
The legendary SA producer has restored the 1992 musical drama, produced an iMax version, and added never-before-seen footage including an incredibly moving scene between Sarafina (Khumalo) and her mother (played by the late music giant Miriam Makeba) singing ‘Mother, Thank You’.
The mother-daughter theme is an emotional topic for Leleti whose own mother became a domestic worker after her father passed away. “After my father passed, she had to start from scratch… and at some point, she couldn’t take it. She became an alcoholic,” says Leleti. “That’s another story. A very emotional story.”
SARAFINA! – a story that is still relevant
Sarafina! is a film that celebrates women and youth, and both its message and the production itself have amazingly stood the test of time.
“When you compare it with other movies that were done that long ago, you can see they’re old… but this story is still relevant,” says Leleti. “And even though SA movie production wasn’t that advanced 30 years ago, when you see this film, it’s like it was done just a few years ago.”
After starring in the stage version of the musical SARAFINA! (which played on Broadway in New York for two years), you would’ve thought Leleti was the obvious choice for the starring role in the film… but the US businessmen involved in bringing the stage performance to the screen were set on an American.
”They actually wanted Whitney to play the role”
”They actually wanted Whitney (Houston) to play the role,” Leleti told SAPeople. “And Anant fought and the director (South African Darrell Roodt) fought because you needed someone who knew the story, who had lived it a little bit. So I had to do auditions, and I was successful.”
”I’m going to be with you the whole time” said Whoopi Goldberg
The film did feature one Hollywood heavyweight – Whoopi Goldberg – who played Sarafina’s teacher. In those days “an international star was everything”, and on the day of their first scene together, Leleti says: “I was shaking. I was sweating. She pulled me aside and asked: ‘What’s wrong with you, are you okay?’ I said ‘I have to be honest with you – I’m nervous, I don’t think I’ll be able to shoot today.’ And she was like: ‘it’s okay, I understand, take it easy, I’m going to be with you the whole time. I’ll take you through.” And after that, it cruised to the finish. She was amazing.”
Despite the heavy subject matter, Leleti says they all had so much fun filming Sarafina. And she can’t wait for South African audiences to watch it again. The restored film SARAFINA! will be released probably on 11 August 2023 in South African theaters.
Leleti encourages parents to have conversations with their kids
“Every school has their own Sarafina. I cannot wait to see the buses bussing the kids to the cinema, with their families at times,” she says. Leleti encourages parents to have conversations with their children after watching the film, about what they went through in the ’70s. She’s had the conversations with her own children (10-year-old twins). Her son has brought questions to Leleti and her husband after watching the film for the second time. “I’m still answering the questions and they keep on coming,” she grins.
A 20-minute ovation in Cannes
Leleti still remembers the “AMAZING” reception the film received at Cannes over three decades ago. “That’s the only thing that I remember about Cannes – the standing ovation. (It lasted 20 minutes!)” And she is emotional today, after the audience yet again jumped to their feet.
Anant, Leleti and Darrell have been a film-making trifecta, enjoying incredible success with not just Sarafina!… but Yesterday too, their powerful 2004 isiZulu film which earned South Africa its first Oscar nomination, in the category of Best Foreign Language Film.
”Durban is a beautiful city”
Both Anant and Leleti are based in Durban, and the legacy that Leleti would like to leave is that Durban becomes as successful as Cape Town in the entertainment industry. “They’re similar cities, and Durban has so much talent, yet we are so behind,” she says. “I live in Durban. It’s a beautiful city.”
Leleti, who’s currently filming in Durban (although it was put on hold so that she could attend Cannes), is “very excited” about the imminent re-release of Sarafina in SA. “These are classic moments. It’s not for me. Or Anant. It’s for the whole country. South Africa has embraced Sarafina in a massive way.”
”The past is a very important part of where we are today”
For critics who say that the past should be left in the past, Anant says:
”I think the past is a very important part of where we are today, and beyond. And I think part of the past, like this film demonstrates, that these young girls especially, and the youth, had the courage to actually come out, rebel against apartheid. And they were a large part of achieving democracy, because the country became ungovernable because the kids took up this.
“I think the kids are the future of every generation and they are the hope and it’s got to be that journey that continues. Yes, you can say forget the past, but you can’t – because it is part of our history, our lives, and I think the timelessness of a film like this demonstrates that it’s a different battle so whether you’re fighting for jobs, or you’re trying to figure out your way in whichever country, nationality, ethnicity – it still has relevance. We must learn from the past.
“The film first came out in 1992, that’s pre-election, Mandela had just come out of prison, there are a lot of things in the film that many white people probably didn’t find comfortable then… I think when you let 30 years go by, and you reflect on things it actually has more resonance. I’m hoping that’s the case now.”
Driven by an insatiable desire to tell important South African stories and inform the nation and the world about what was going on in SA, Anant became a legend in the film industry through trial and error. There was nobody of colour making films when he started, no mentors, and no ability to train because the film school (in Pretoria) was for white people only.
“I love film, and whatever I learnt was a matter of just trying to figure out, basically trial and error, from distribution to production. My first film was Place of Weeping, on the run from authorities, and I just decided to do it because it was important to tell that story from an emotional standpoint, so people – not only in SA but around the world – could have a journey and understand what was going on. It was all about story-telling, trying to make a difference and make the film effective in that narrative.”
The next important story he will be telling the world is a documentary feature he’s currently finishing about Gandhi’s influence on world leaders. Bono and Armaan Malik have recorded the title song, and the film is expected to debut next month at a TV festival in Monaco.
“Gandhi spent 21 years in South Africa… it was the foundation of his politicisation, and taking on the British in India. If he didn’t come to South Africa it wouldn’t have happened,” says Anant.
Don’t miss the restored version of SARAFINA! – about teenage students in Soweto during the Soweto Uprising – with breathtaking new scenes included. Coming to South African cinemas in August. SARAFINA! It is a vibrant combination of drama, music and dance; and remains as entertaining and relevant today as it was 30 years ago.
WATCH standing ovation for SARAFINA! – Cannes Film Festival 2023
CONGRATULATIONS @AnantSingh_Dbn @leletikhumalo #DarrelRoodt and #WhoopiGoldberg – ANOTHER standing ovation for #SARAFINA! at #CannesFilmFestival2023 #Cannes2023, 31 years later! More: https://t.co/QSzYwWEMit pic.twitter.com/e9Zw3rZ7d7
— South Africa People – SAPeople.com (@sapeople) May 28, 2023