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Once Upon a Time... I Hoped to Change My Country


A woman capable of holding a man’s attention through storytelling for 1001 night is a woman worth praising and so is the story of Shahrazad; where such famous stories of Aladdin and Sinbad began.

The Dream of Shahrazad a documentary in competition at the 36th Durban International Film Festival; hopes to hold its audience with the same power that Shahrazad held a murderous King's attention (though I can't imagine anyone who would want to noble intentions aside). South African film-maker Francois Vester uses this fable as not only a metaphor but a tool to weave a story that depicts recent political events in Egypt and Turkey.

Following three separate narratives Francois allows us to delve into the world of the politically oppressed and the beautiful, exquisite ways that storytelling can become an outlet and a tool for those without a voice to find strength, unity and beauty in moments where there otherwise might not be. Vester mentions that this film was inspired by the event of 9/11 and the manner in which he saw Islamic based phobia was spreading, the manner in which this once vibrant religion became marginalised and despised universally.

Through the characters; an orchestra conductor desperately trying to inspire the young minds in his youth orchestra, the mothers of Egypt mourning martyred sons and an actress/internet sensation; seemingly have little in common, but the manner in which Shahrazad has inspired them and the struggles in each of their countries are prevalent themes. Vester successfully captures the characters as they try to make sense of the world that they live in and we find ourselves gifted with observing their great and inspiring moments of revelation.

Music, story-telling, art and politics find an interesting balance, and in the same way that Shahrazad managed to keep a severely emotionally damaged, narcissistic, dictator interested night after night (when most of us would have called in the shrink to see him), the plight of the characters and their resilience is seen as a parallel of Shahrazad's story.

The Documentary though battles with a heavy subject the imagery and music depicting both is a quiet in some moments; providing the audience with glimpses into the lives of each of the characters; drawing you in slowly as one would in a fable that begins with Once A upon a Time. Vesters fast paced editing marries well with his quiet and careful directing; finding a balance where the story successfully comes alive. With any piece of film the one wonders what the film hopes to achieve; it is clear that The Dream of Shahrazad hopes to inspire its audiences with the amazing world of story-telling.

Amanda Ndaba is a graduate of AFDA, having studied Film & Live Performance. She is currently pursuing a career
in creative writing.

The 36th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) is organised by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (a special project of the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Humanities, Cheryl Potgieter) with support from the National Film and Video Foundation, , KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission, City of Durban, German Embassy, Goethe Institut, Industrial Development Corporation, Gauteng Film Commission, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture and a range of other valued partners.



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