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DIFF opening strikes with feature film “Serpent”
Megan Lewis
The 38th annual Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) kicked off with a red-carpet celebration of Africa’s beauty and talent at The Playhouse Theatre. In a speech that matched the upbeat tempo of the evening, Centre for Creative Arts director, David wa Maahlamela invited the audience to give “a round of applause for the journey of DIFF” as it nears its fourth decade. This year’s theme, Transit Tales, spotlights the stories of global displacement that continues into the 21st Century. The opening night featured Cape Town filmmaker Amanda Evans’ debut feature film, an intense psychological thriller called Serpent. Having already premiered at the LA Film Festival last month, Serpent joins a strong ensemble of women-led films at Africa’s longest running film festival this year.
If the snake is a multifaceted icon of good and evil’s duality, carnal desires and Biblical salvation, then Evans has done well to make it the central protagonist and title of a film that parallels extramarital lust and infidelity with sacrifice and forgiveness. Produced by Durban’s own Anant Singh in association with the Department of Trade and Industry, Serpent is set in South Africa but deals with universal themes. Somewhat reminiscent of the 90s thriller Arachnophobia, Evans replaces South American spiders with our deadliest reptile, the Black Mamba, but carries the plot of an adventurous scientist camping in the wilderness. Only in this story, it is an unhappily married couple camping in Grabouw’s Suicide Gorge that are forced by a slithering intruder into a highly charged confessional.
Actors Sarah Dumont (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse and Don Jon) and Tom Ainsley (Versailles and The Royals) share most of the 85 minutes with an actual cold-blooded snake. They bring the tangibility of this tension into their performance of Gwyneth (Sarah Dumont) and Adam (Tom Ainsley), together carving out a story of agonising love, betrayal and rebirth. The film sets up Gwyneth as the archetypal woman, remorseless in her deception whilst simultaneously playing the distressed damsel afraid of nature. Surprising as this may be from a woman director, Evans’ does not let the character of Adam off too lightly either. In a fit of near-fatal rage, the audience realises that it takes two to undermine any relationship. 
As always, the festival features a contingent of independent filmmakers from the African continent. DIFF’s new platform for micro-budget films highlights the importance of supporting the independent film industry, particularly as it is plagued by a scarcity of resources in 2017. Also on the DIFF menu this year, are various country focus segments which include Canada, Kenya, Russia and Germany.
DIFF runs from 13 to 23 July in various venues across Durban. Other screenings of Serpent during DIFF are as follows:
18 July | 18:00 | The Playhouse Theatre
23 July | 12:00 | Musgrave
This story emanates from the Student Media Lab, a collaborative student-reporting project spearheaded by the Centre for Communication, Media and Society in partnership with The Durban International Film Festival and the Centre for Creative Arts. The views of this article reflect the opinions of the student reviewer Megan Lewis. Lewis has hung-up the 9-to-5 office shoes and joined the ranks of freelancers in Durban as a content writer and editor.