Film festival meets social engagement

Growing up in Gugulethu Township, South Africa.| Photo courtesy of VSAFF.

The 8th Annual Vancouver South African Film Festival (VSAFF), a non-profit festival, runs at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts March 23–25, 2018. The event will showcase feature films and documentaries that explore the culture, history and politics of South Africa.

Co-founded by Ruth and Cecil Hershler, VSAFF has the dual purpose of educating and informing the audience about South Africa as well as fund-raising for the educational development work carried out by Education without Borders (EwB).

“Vancouver is where we created the vision for EwB and set up the first board in 2001, so it was the logical place to create VSAFF both for fundraising and educational reasons. We have always obtained support from South Africans living in Vancouver as well as from Canadians interested in South Africa, and especially township issues,” says Hershler.

Eight years going strong

VSAFF co-founders Ruth and Cecil Hershler.| Photo courtesy of VSAFF.

David Chudnovsky, co-founder of VSAFF and chair of the selection committee, says VSAFF has been a hit with Vancouver film fans since 2011, the year of its inception; the gala show had 600 people packed into the Granville 7 Cinemas and seven films had their Canadian premier that January weekend. He is still as excited about being a part of the event as he was eight years ago.

“Our Festival always excites me because South Africa is inspiring and depressing, beautiful and horrific, and always tremendously complex. VSAFF shines a light on all of that and helps our audience to get beyond the stereotypes – helps them to engage with the real South Africa,” he says.

According to Chudnovsky, many of the issues highlighted in the films are encountered in the work that the EwB team does in South Africa, such as gang activity, poverty, sexual abuse and hopelessness. In 2015–2016, EwB applied its experience in township schools in South Africa to the Canadian context and now serves Indigenous children and their communities in British Columbia.

Female representation in films

Krotoa, one of the films featured at this year’s festival, originally produced as a documentary, is set back in the very first years of European settlement in South Africa: Krotoa.

Written by Margret Goldsmid and Kaye Williams and directed by Roberta Durrant, Krotoa is about an 11-year-old Khoi girl removed from her community to serve Jan van Riebeeck, the Navigator for the Dutch East India Company who established the first fort in South Africa.

“We first produced a documentary on Krotoa and her life, and while we were doing this we realised that there was the potential for a narrative feature in her story. We are pleased with the results of the movie as the movie provoked a lot of debate locally and had a good theatrical run in South Africa. I think the film poses a lot of questions and it emotionally resonated with local audiences,” says Durrant.

Durrant says that South African women are underrepresented in the country’s film industry, which is one of the reasons they chose to make this film.

“Not enough films are made about women in South Africa, especially women like Krotoa who played a meaningful role at a time in our history that was extreme – i.e. when two cultures came up against each other. She believed there was a middle way between the two cultures, which of course is an ongoing challenge not only in South Africa but all over the world,” she says.

Krotoa, along with the documentary Winnie by Pascale Lamche and the mockumentary Wonderboy for President directed by John Barker, ensures that the festival will not lack in variety this year.

For more information, please visit