South Africa’s Steven Spielberg

Jahmil X.T. Qubeka is in a great mood. Tickets to the final screening of his award-winning film “Of Good Report” have sold out and the theater is packed to capacity. Fueled by reports that it was initially banned in the filmmaker’s hometown of South Africa, audiences have flocked to screen the film at the annual Pan African Film Festival in Los Angles to see if the hoopla was much ado about nothing. “Some have accused me of pulling a media stunt,” Qubeka laughs, “but I have been focused on getting it out there and never basked in the hype.”

Qubeka at the Pan African Film Festival opening night

Qubeka at the Pan African Film Festival opening night- Photo Credit: Clinton H.Wallace/Photomundo International

In this beautifully shot film, Mothusi Magano (“Hotel Rwanda”) plays Parker Sithole, a nerdy bespectacled recluse who is hired as a substitute English teacher at a remote township school in South Africa.  A man of few words from the KZN district, he comes ‘of good report’ but there’s something very odd about Sithole. Through family memories and flashbacks we learn of a strained relationship with his mother and an unsettled childhood. During a night out at a local bar, he meets Nolitha (Petronella Tshuma), a pretty teenage girl who is one of his students. The seemingly introverted teacher begins a sexual relationship with the minor, but what starts off as a chance fling drives him into a deep obsession with tragic consequences that no one could have predicted.

Of Good report

A brilliant and provocative film shot entirely in black and white, what initially seems like a portrait of pedophiliac obsession takes a smart turn as it explores several themes such as violence against women and delves into the mind of a serial killer. “There are quite a few themes in the film,” says Qubeka. “It’s also a serial killer origin story, but the bigger metaphor is that it’s really coming to terms with visceral violence perpetuated against women. Without going into too much detail, it’s a subject matter that I‘ve been exposed to from an early age.”

Qubeka expertly handles the moral and psychological nuances with a steady pace lacing it with a subtle score and sound effects.  All the performances hit just the right notes and the cast equally play their parts to perfection. Tina Jaxa plays the school headmistress, Nomhlé Nkyonyeni is his rambunctious landlady who injects a much needed humor supplying the comic relief and 23 year-old Petronella Tshuma) perfectly captures the childish innocence of 16 year-old Nolitha Ngubane.

Petronella Tshuma - Copy

Petronella Tshuma plays 16 year-old Nolitha Ngubane

Although there are brief scenes of nudity in Qubeka’s film, the material is filmed in such a way that one would have to be awfully sensitive to be offended by anything in the movie.  But the drama had the South African censorship board in a panic at its world premiere last year at the Durban International Film Festival. 20 minutes into watching the film, the Film and Publication Board banned the movie. The decision was based on a scene between the teacher and pupil which they stated constituted child pornography. It’s a decision that was soon reversed after Qubeka and his legal team took action, but it created an international firestorm and elevated the filmmaker’s status.

“It all stinks of malice and I am quite suspicious of the actions of the Film and Publication Board,” Qubeka, a self-confessed conspiracy theorist points out. “They sought out to watch this film almost as though they heard something about it. They were looking for any kind of definition to classify it along the lines of whatever they have put down on paper.” A film which marked the Pan African Film Festival’s opening film, it earned Qubeka two awards including a BAFTA Choice Prize Award at the close of the festival just last week.

“It was a big surprise and an honor. You work so hard to make a film and it’s nice to get recognition and for people to appreciate the work. I have a special affinity with this festival in that regard. It’s a special relationship and when they chose the film as the opening night film it was really a big honor,” adds the prolific director whose last film “A Small Town Called Descent” received the Founders Awards two years ago at the Pan African Film Festival. An established screenwriter and filmmaker, Qubeka has directed numerous television programs and documentaries. Passionate about films, he cities Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg as just some of his Hollywood icons. “I remember as a kid being fascinated by seeing these people over and over again in different guises. I am trying to be as prolific as Spielberg and trying to mirror his career from a black person’s perspective.”

A rare filmmaker with a sublimely natural talent, the future is bright for Qubeka.

Samantha Ofole-Prince is a California based journalist and movie critic. She serves as the Entertainment Editor for Trendy Africa.


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