Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Winner Cannot Believe His Good Fortune

Jabu Sibisi as the lead in “Father Christmas Doesn't Come Here.” Below, director Bheki Sibiya and co-screenwriter Sibongile Nkosana smile over their lunch at the Tribeca Press Center. Top photo by Jennifer Wheatley courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival; bottom photo by Elisabeth Trydal Andersen.

LIKE Chris Rock's Good Hair, Bheki Sibiya's latest film addresses a black female image issue. However, unlike CR with “Good Hair,” which observes the stresses that some black women – and I cannot express some enough – endure for long, flowing tresses i.e., chemical relaxers and weaves, BS never seems to make fun of his subject in “Father Christmas Doesn’t Come Here.”

The 14-minute film won the Best Narrative Short prize (which includes $5,000 and a ton of Kodak film stock) during the awards ceremony a few days ago at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. The South African director, actor, cinematographer and producer uses a little girl's (Jabu Sibisi) most fervent desire to have long, straight hair as a commentary on the larger issue of how Africans in general struggle with images of beauty and acceptability in a world ruled by Europeans.

The jury said of the film: “The jury was unanimous in its enthusiasm for the winning film. It is an assured, original, and profoundly moving film, which perfectly executes its aims and is buoyed by a remarkable performance by its lead actor. The director of this film consistently foregoes sentimentality in favor of subtle debunking of myths based on culture. His frames are urgently alive with telling details. This film announces a persuasive and deeply human directorial vision, one rich with authenticity and insight. It is a film of resilience and hope.”

Yours truly had the pleasure and sheer good luck to meet and chat with BS the day after his triumph. In the spirit of Vanity Fair’s (one of my favorite mags) Proust Questionnaire, following are some of his (and an assist from one of his screenwriters) musings:

What inspired the film?
It comes from – we were doing a documentary, me and my co-partner. We were doing a documentary about hair. And then, to me as a director, I think it comes from within me because I grew up as a very, very fat guy, so I couldn’t associate or play around because I could not get good friends, you know, because I was big fat guy. I was always fat. So it’s that emotional thing, is that who do I become essentially. Do I accept myself or do I allow them to accept me before I accept myself? The whole theme is about me.

What is the moral of the story?
The lesson of the movie is about more blacks accepting who we are as African people, that this short hair is not bad because someone looks less on us. It’s about who we are in terms of the coloring … What does acceptance mean? What does it say about the Chinese – all these different cultures … What does African really mean.

Why did you submit to Tribeca?
Immediately, when we finished shooting the film, we submitted to the Tri Continental Film Festival that is held in South Africa, and won [Best Short Film] there, so during that time we said, ‘You know what, let’s just throw it to all the festivals that can … able to push it.’ And there was Tribeca …

Where are you showing after Tribeca?
Screenwriter Sibongile Nkosana:It might be the Durban [International] Film Festival in South Africa.

Had you only shown in South Africa before Tribeca?
Yeah, yeah.

Are you based in Jo’burg?
Yes. Jo’burg, yes.

Where are you in the distribution process?
Hmmm …

Do you remember what went through your head at the awards ceremony when they called out your name and the name of your film?
You know coming from South Africa. In South Africa, we are still like … babies when it comes to film. I mean, to be quite honest with you we did not even think that we were gonna win. I mean, because all different countries – in France, from Hungary –there was no way we were gonna win but when they told us that we’d won … Like I would never even believe this today. It's an amazing experience. We are most grateful to do more in terms of different stories that we can give to be shared with the world.

Would you like the film to show around the world?
Definitely, definitely.

“Father Christmas Doesn't Come Here” has a screening on the bill, "Shorts: Between the Lines," at 6 p.m. today at Tribeca Cinemas. Visit for all Tribeca Film Festival information and venues.

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