Claire Jankelson

Festival Director, Sydney South African Film Festival

The Sydney South African Film Festival is blasting onto our at-home screens this month, and we spoke with it's festival director, Claire Jankelson, about what makes South African film special, and what you have to catch in this years online festival.


Jacob: How did you get involved with the Sydney South African Film Festival (SSAFF)?

Claire: It was a natural fit. I’m a management consultant with a great interest in how stories get told in organisations; in how stories are told about countries. I came from South Africa 26 years ago – growing up through apartheid years there is something so powerful and compelling in that experience. I continue to be intrigued how we tell those stories; and how we tell stories today – always with apartheid as a backdrop! When you grow up in such a powerful political system – where human rights have been so eroded – you cannot but continue to try and make sense of it all.

Jacob: What makes South African film so intriguing and special? 

Claire: There are so many diverse cultural backgrounds. 11 official languages which means 11 indigenous groups. Consider the range of vibrant cultures and set against the incredible beauty of South African landscapes. Include ghetto townships and urban locations; forests and mountains and the many wild and almost untouched places. All this comprise the experience of South African cinema. 

Jacob: Which films stand out to you as 'must see' as part of this year's SSAFF program?

Claire: To experience these diverse cultures and to include works from some of these prestige South African filmmakers that recently won awards at the 2020 South African Film and Television Awards, I would recommend the following:





- and our opening night film, BEYOND MOVING, fondly referred to by NZ review as a "Billy Elliot" story with a SA twist.

Jacob: How do you think the viewing impact will be changed due to COVID-19 for the festival?

Claire: I believe audiences at home are suffering from binge watching too many television shows and movies through various in-home program offerings and therefore our focus has been to try and retain a unique cinema experience on a digital platform and hopefully this will be a welcome change for audiences to enjoy. Interestingly – because of the Covid environment we have managed to obtain remarkable extra content without too much effort – so we have a great line up of interviews with remarkable people. We have content from a comedian, from a magician; we have a ballet dance class in anticipation of Beyond Moving; we have significant actors, film makers, directors in conversation. We have Li Cunxin Maos last dancer speaking with Siphe November from Beyond Moving. Both left home and culture at age 11 to pursue life as a ballet dancer!

Jacob: What do you want viewers to take away from this years SSAFF program?

Claire: A feeling of being connected. There is something about brilliant film that connects you to yourself and your own cultural background. For some, there is perhaps some nostalgic connection with a particular lens on South African film and culture. We suspect that it will also be a learning experience as new ways of telling those rich stories are offered. Further there is all the extra content – so the stories will be enriched and enlivened by directors talks and the Q & A’s and the rich conversations that accompany each film.

The Sydney South African Film Festival is one of Australia’s first festivals to go online in 2020. The Festival will screen nationwide from 16 to 26 May, with four feature films, four documentaries and one short. All ticket proceeds go to supporting Education without Borders in programs that assist young South Africans in some of the country’s most disadvantaged communities. 

For more information, and to explore the rest of the amazing Sydney South African Film Festival, click the banner below.