‘Five Fingers for Marseilles’, a contemporary South African Western set in the rugged badlands of the Eastern Cape, will screen for seven days at Ster-Kinekor Tygervalley in Cape Town. This is to ensure that the film is eligible for submission for the 2018 Academy Award® for Best Foreign Language Film. The Academy stipulates that a film must play theatrically for seven consecutive days to qualify for entry.
The film is currently in official competition at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), on from 7 to 17 September, where it also had its world premiere. This is a massive achievement for a local film. TIFF is one of the largest publicly attended film festivals in the world, attracting more than 480 000 people annually.
‘Five Fingers for Marseilles’ will be released in South Africa by Indigenous Film Distribution. “This exceptional film is unique and different in the way it redefines the Western genre for a new age,” says Helen Kuun, CEO of Indigenous Film Distribution. “We encourage local audiences to catch it on the big screen while they can, and to play their part in getting it to the Oscars.”
Directed by Michael Matthews and written by Sean Drummond, ‘Five Fingers for Marseilles’ is a predominantly Sesotho, Western-inspired tale of an outlaw who returns home after years on the run, and finds a chance for redemption.
“Though a deeply local film, the global attention for Five Fingers for Marseilles is due to a universal story executed at the highest levels,” says producer Asger Hussain. “A daring narrative like this is a rare combination of filmmakers, cast and crew coming together, working under gruelling conditions to bring to life a singular vision. We hope that this film will serve as future inspiration for what’s achievable in independent filmmaking.”
Vuyo Dabula heads an all-star cast that includes Hamilton Dhlamini, Zethu Dlomo, Kenneth Nkosi, Mduduzi Mabaso, Aubrey Poolo, Lizwi Vilakazi, Warren Masemola, Dean Fourie, Anthony Oseyemi, Brendon Daniels and Jerry Mofokeng. Cast by acclaimed casting director Moonyeenn Lee, the film also features people from local Eastern Cape communities in supporting roles, and introduces to the big screen Toka Mtabane, Vuyo Novokoza, Ntsika Tiyo, Sibusiso Bottoman, Abongile Sithole, and Qhawe Soroshi.
It tells the story of how, 20 years ago, the young ‘Five Fingers’ fought for the rural town of Marseilles, against brutal police oppression. Now, after fleeing in disgrace, Tau returns, seeking peace. Finding the town under new threat, he must reluctantly fight to free it. Will the Five Fingers stand again?
Following the TIFF premiere, US movie blog The Film Stage said of the film, “Everything you want from a western thematically is present with arch stereotypes of good and evil prevalent but never detrimental to the characters. Dhlamini goes as far over-the-top as Dabula stays reserved, their dynamic as vessels of immense strength converging for a winner take all scenario obvious from the moment they meet [… ] just as the filmmakers seek to color things with an authentic spin courtesy of local heritage and real emotional (and physical) scars, they refuse to demean the complex psychology of their story by delivering anything but a melancholic ending wherein redemption doesn’t automatically earn salvation. True heroes accept when their own actions cannot be forgiven.”
Canadian film reviewer Edgar Chaput wrote, “Lovers of westerns and action films should rejoice at what director Matthews, his crew, and cast have delivered with ‘Fingers’. Their efforts result in more than a curiosity, but an accomplishment as far as extending the breath of a genre goes […] ‘Fingers’ straddles the line between bending and twisting some of the rules whilst still staying true to the genre’s sources, and caps things off by setting its serpentine adventure in a beautiful, harsh, and quite unexpected landscape. The film is foreign, comprised predominantly of black, South African actors speaking the local dialect, yet familiar with how it presents the story of a burdened hero straddling into town to clean it up. If ever there was a case of arguing that a western movie feels the same but somehow different, ‘Fingers’ is a prime candidate.”
‘Five Fingers for Marseilles’ was awarded Best South African Film in Development at the Durban FilmMart’s finance forum in 2013. It was produced by Drummond and Matthews’ Be Phat Motel Film Company and Yaron Schwartzman and Asger Hussain of Game 7 Films, in association with Stage 5 Films and Above the Clouds. Schwartzman and Hussain’s previous credits include TIFF competition title ‘The Paperboy’, starring Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman and Matthew McConaughey, as well as TIFF 2009 Audience Award winner, ‘Precious’. ‘Five Fingers for Marseilles’ was also made possible with the backing of South Africa’s National Film & Video Foundation and the Department of Trade and Industry, and with additional support from Dupa Films.