Film lovers in the City of Gold have a week of great cinema ahead as the second edition of the Joburg Film Festival (JFF) takes place in Jozi and surrounding areas from 9-17 November.

The event promises to showcase over 40 curated films celebrating the best in African and international cinema from over 16 countries at various venues around the city. Plus, it will give moviegoers the chance to interact with the local and international movie stars, directors and producers who brought these movies to life.

The organisers have strategically scheduled it to coincide with the Johannesburg edition (13 -16 November) of the DISCOP content, adaptation rights and project market, which has become Africa’s number one destination for content production, acquisition and distribution business. This means that the JFF will be the launch pad for a plethora of proudly African films to go into international distribution. 

So you can be the first to check them out and hold the bragging rights in your circle, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 must-see flicks coming this week. Thank us later.

Five Fingers for Marseilles

Fusing western influences into a contemporary South African drama, Five Fingers for Marseilles features four generations of acclaimed South African actors led by inspired performances from Vuyo Dabula and Hamilton Dhlamini. The great westerns have always contained socio-political threads, and Five Fingers’ loose allegory on the state of post-apartheid SA is thrilling and starkly human. The “five fingers” are a group of boys in the remote town of Marseilles who take it upon themselves to defend their home from brutal police oppression but the deaths of two policemen trigger a wave of violence that changes Marseilles and the five fingers forever. Twenty years later, the town faces a new threat and the five fingers must stand against old allies and new enemies alike, putting their lives at risk for the sake of Marseilles. It’s their duty to protect it. Even from each other.


Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu knew that her film about two Kenyan women who fall in love despite the inherent risks of a same-sex relationship in their conservative society would attract a lot of criticism, but she could never have predicted the story of triumph that would unfold when she pushed back. Rafiki, meaning “friend” in Swahili, was banned from cinemas by the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) for promoting same-sex relationships, but for a film to be eligible for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, it must have had a run in movie theatres in its country. So Kahiu sued the KFCB saying it would be damaging to her career. The court lifted the ban for a seven-day period, and in the week the film was unbanned, it made $33 000 in gross earnings and became the second-highest-grossing Kenyan film of all time. It’s not often that a film about resistance becomes a defiance tale in its own right.

Everything Must Fall

At its height, the #FeesMustFall student movement, questioning the cost of higher education in democratic South Africa, was the subject of much media attention and consternation, but the students driving it were more often spoken about than given platforms on which to speak. In Everything Must Fall social justice activist and filmmaker Rehad Desai captures the story of this movement through the eyes of four student leaders at Wits University and their Vice Chancellor, Adam Habib. By blending dramatic unfolding action with a multi-protagonist narrative, much of the drama lies in the internal struggles the activists have around the weight of leadership. Threaded through the film is a pulse of anticipation, shared across the generational divide, that somehow these youth have reached a breaking point and won’t back down until they achieve the kind of social transformation that previous generations gave up on.

Half The Sky

Through their work, five women directors from different parts of the world focus on feminine values. South African director Sara Blecher’s The Measure of a Woman sees a female competitive rower whose doubt over her own eligibility to compete in the female gender category due to her masculine appearance makes her consider changing herself to become more “womanly,” as society defines it. Brazilian director Daniela Thomas uses a realistic style to tell a story about a woman who has been harmed by her family and gathers the courage to embark on a healing, yet long journey to return to her hometown in Back. This series of short films, which will be screened as one complete piece, also includes Russian director Elizaveta Stichova’s Catfishing, Indian director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Taken for Granted and Chinese director Yulin Liu’s The Dumpling.

Children of War

Nhlanhla Mthethwa’s documentary is set on the east townships of Johannesburg where some of the most violent fighting occurred between 1991 and 1994 among the young, and various communities. Former friends, neighbours and even relatives were pitted against each other in a bitter battle of blood-letting where the biblical dictum “an eye for an eye” became a way of a life. The death rate spiralled out of control as many of the killers, mere children, did not survive the bloody killing fields. Children of War attempts to pick up the pieces of the past, looking at the impact this violence has had on the child fighters, their families and victims more than 20 years later.

An Act of Defiance

The story of the Rivonia trial is told from the perspective of Bram Fischer in this highly anticipated drama. Fischer reluctantly agrees to represent the group of ten black and white leaders of the banned ANC and the Spear of the Nation. However, during the trial he sees more and more reasons to move away from his non-violence principles, and becomes prepared to support violent acts of sabotage and the armed uprising of the people. The death penalty for the accused could be the spark igniting the powder keg and parallel to the trial, Fischer plays a key role in organising the uprising and preparing the ANC to lead it. Putting his own life and that of his wife and children in jeopardy, Fischer becomes the man who succeeds in preventing Nelson Mandela and the other accused from going to the gallows.

Freedom Fields

Filmed over the course of five years, Freedom Fields follows three women and their football team in post-revolution Libya, as the country descends into civil war and the Utopian hopes of the Arab Spring begin to fade. Through the eyes of these accidental activists, we see the reality of a country in transition, where the personal stories of love and aspirations collide with history. An intimate movie about hope, struggle and sacrifice in a land where dreams seem a luxury, Naziha Arebi’s film is a love letter to sisterhood and the power of teamwork.

Whispering Truth to Power

Thuli Madonsela, South Africa’s third Public Protector and the first female to fill this position, inspired a nation by taking her duty to protect ordinary citizens from corruption and bad governance on behalf of the State to extraordinary heights. Soon after her appointment in 2009, this little-known public servant demonstrated consistent bravery in confronting a government increasingly troubled by mismanagement, patronage and corruption. Against all odds, including death threats, spy allegations and humiliation at the hands of parliament, she took on the country’s president, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, and won. Whispering Truth to Power follows Madonsela as she completes her last year in office, when she faced the biggest challenge of her career, and offers a portrait of an activist, leader, public hero and mother who dared to speak truth to power.

Miners from one of Harmony Gold’s mines. (Photo by Gallo Images/City Press/Khaya Ngwenya)

Dying for Gold

Over five million black men were recruited from across Southern Africa to dig for gold and produce the wealth of South Africa. Gold mining has gone hand in hand with illness and death since the metal’s discovery in SA 1886. Today, gold mining communities face the world’s greatest epidemic of silicosis and tuberculosis as a result of exposure to dust in gold mines. Dying For Gold juxtaposes intimate testimony from mining families with documents and films found in corporate and state archives to reveal how gold mining shaped the economic foundations of South Africa – a toxic legacy that continues to cause harm, death and inequality.

Sew the Winter to my Skin

Based on the true story of notorious outlaw cum freedom fighter John Kepe, Sew the Winter to My Skin takes place in 1950’s rural South Africa, where Kepe wages a one-man resistance campaign against white settler farmers during the decade leading up to the dawn of apartheid. A mammoth manhunt is pursued for his capture in the mountain on which he’s rumoured to occupy a Noah’s Ark-like cave. But this is one target that won’t be easy to take down. Director Jahmil XT Qubeka’s film is a sweeping, action-adventure epic that explores the birth of one of the most viciously racist, fascist, political regimes in history through the legend of one black man who had the nerve to stand up against it and became a martyr in the process.