Mdantsane filmmaker Jahmil Qubeka's groundbreaking Knuckle City, which was filmed on location in and around Buffalo City, has been chosen to open the prestigious Durban International Film Festival.
It's star, Bongile Mantsai, also walked off with the Best Actor Award, one of the festival's top accolades.
A slice of street life, Knuckle City follows the journey of Dudu Nyakama, a down and out ageing boxer as he struggles to attain the one fight that he believes will uplift his fractured family. Contending that the underbelly of the boxing world is rife with criminality, Dudu unwittingly enlists the help of his reckless but resourceful, gangster brother who’s coming out of jail.
Haunted by the ghost of their father, Dudu soon finds that the fight at home is far more challenging than any opponent he can possibly face in the ring.
Qubeka, who grew up in Mdantsane in the 80s and 90s, said he was ecstatic and deeply honoured that Knuckle City was chosen to open the festival.
"What a privilege! DIFF has been very special to me on my journey as a filmmaker, and it has been a platform where I have found both community and affirmation,” he said.
Growing up in Mdantsane was instrumental in Qubeka's decision to make Knuckle City.
"The energy of the landscape and the visceral fight for survival that is palpable on the streets has inspired in me a deep yearning to chronicle the lives of its inhabitants through cinema.”
“It was my intention to capture the essence of life in Mdantsane, and the restless pursuit of being a champion within a society that often dictates you are a failure. I am determined with this film to give audiences a glimpse into a world rarely seen, and a deeper understanding of the multi-faceted individuals inhabiting our land.”
The film stars Mantsai as Dudu Nyakama, Thembekile Komani as Duke Nyakama, with an ensemble cast that includes Faniswa Yisa, Patrick Ndlovu, Siv Ngesi, Owen Sejake, Angela Sithole, Nomhle Nkonyeni and Zolisa Xaluva.
Producer Layla Swart says Knuckle City is a much-needed addition to the canon of South African cinema, "where the less discussed aspects of the residue and repercussions of our collective national past culminate in the immediate issues confronting us in the present day."
“We are very excited to be opening our 40th edition with this gritty raw film by Jahmil,” says Chipo Zhou, DIFF Festival Manager.
“This is a film which we believe will do very well as a cinema release, with boxing as the means to tell the story, and its multi-layered narrative will resonate with audiences globally.”
Qubeka released his first full-length film, A Small Town Called Descent, to international acclaim, including an Africa International Film Festival nomination.
His second film, Of Good Report, was released in 2013 and garnered Best Director nominations at the Chicago and London Film Festivals, before winning the 2014 SAFTA Best Director award. This was followed by Sew the Winter to My Skin.
Knuckle City is his fourth full-length film.