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Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Fascinating documentary on a haven of non-racialism in the dark days of apartheid.

Now in its landmark 30th year, The Durban International Film Festival will present the World Premiere of a fascinating documentary on a haven of non-racialism in the dark days of apartheid.

Flat 13 was commissioned by and written, directed and produced by Zarina Maharaj. It is the story of an apartment in downtown Johannesburg which, during the late '40s to early '60s, was a hub of rebellion and resistance against apartheid’s injustices. Nelson Mandela has described this flat as the place “where the first seeds of non-racialism were sown and a wider concept of the nation came into being”.

The flat first got its reputation as a non-racial social and political centre in the mid-forties when Mandela, a fellow first year law student with Ismail Meer, started to hang out there with other young anti-apartheid activists, journalists, musicians and intellectuals from across the colour and religious spectrum. Its reputation as a den of defiance continued when Ahmed “Kathy” Kathrada later took over the apartment, a reputation which lasted until his sentencing to life imprisonment on Robben Island with Mandela and others in the early '60s.

The major political events of the '40s to the '60s provide the historical context into which is woven the personal stories of a few of those who lived, socialised and strategised at that apartment, many of whom readily gave up their lives in the fight for freedom from racial injustice.

Director Zarina Maharaj has worked as a mathematician in industry and academia and is also the author of an award-winning memoir. On her directorial debut, she says: “I found writing and filmmaking to be on the same creative continuum. Both modes of storytelling, written and visual, rely on scripts in which visualisation is core and implicit. But in films script visualisation then has to be made explicit, and that is where I found directing at its most stimulating and challenging. The transition for me as writer to film director was about moving on this continuum to the best explicit images to illustrate the story, within the budgetary constraints. Clearly, the less such constraints, the greater the creative freedom to decide which types of visuals – stock footage, own footage, re-enactments, stills, or whatever - would maximise the impact of the filmed story.”

Principal screening venues of the festival are the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre; Nu Metro Cinecentre - Suncoast; Ster Kinekor Junction – Musgrave; Cinema Nouveau - Gateway; Ekhaya Multi-Arts Centre in KwaMashu; and The Royal Hotel, with further screenings in township areas where cinemas are non-existent. Programme booklets with the full screening schedule and synopses of all the films are available free at cinemas, Computicket, and other outlets. Call 031 2602506 or 031 2601650 or visit for further details.

In a year deeply constrained by funding cutbacks festival organisers the Centre for Creative Arts (UKZN ) highlight the important role played by principal funders the National Film and Video Foundation, Stichting Doen, HIVOS, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, German Embassy, Goethe Institute of South Africa, City of Durban, Industrial Development Corporation, with support from East Coast Radio, Durban Film Office, Department of Arts and Culture Film, Video and Sound Archives, French Embassy of South Africa, East Coast Radio and other valued sponsors and partners.