‘Festival with a heart’: Two La Jollans usher in the inaugural South African Film Festival USA

La Jolla residents Lesley Davis (left) and Brenda Sacks are co-chairing the first South African Film Festival USA.
Lesley Davis (left) and Brenda Sacks, native South Africans who have lived in La Jolla for decades, are co-chairing the first South African Film Festival USA, which begins Thursday, Nov. 4, online.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Hoping to connect fellow native South Africans and share all things about the country with those who want to know more, two La Jolla residents are co-chairing the inaugural South African Film Festival USA, which will stream virtually beginning Thursday, Nov. 4.

The festival will run through Sunday, Nov. 14. Twelve films will be shown, including dramas, comedies, documentaries, shorts and Q&As with filmmakers, showcasing South Africa’s culture, history and politics.

Most of the proceeds will go to Education Without Borders, a nonprofit that provides after-school educational programs and mentoring to disadvantaged youths in South Africa.

Brenda Sacks and Lesley Davis, both originally from South Africa but decades-long residents of La Jolla who met here through mutual friends, took on the project to initiate such a festival in the United States at the behest of friends of Sacks in Canada who helped run that country’s South African film festival.

The festival sounded “so interesting,” Sacks said. “I really wanted to see the films.”

Davis said “it was a good opportunity. There’s some very good films that are coming from South Africa.”

Davis and Sacks were moved to support Education Without Borders, which Davis said was started in Canada by two former South Africa residents who wanted to help children in impoverished areas of South Africa’s townships.

Australia’s South African film festival also supports EWB, Sacks said.

“It’s a festival with a heart,” Davis said, noting that it is volunteer-run to maximize donations to EWB. Organizers are still looking for more sponsors to help them support the nonprofit.

“As White people, we got such a good education and we were so privileged in South Africa,” Davis said. “This is our opportunity to give back.”

“We just care about the next generation,” Sacks said. “Without education … it’s hopeless.”

To organize the U.S. festival, Davis and Sacks relied heavily on the blueprint of the Canadian and Australian versions, Davis said. All the films in the inaugural lineup were produced in the past few years, she said.

“People seeing these films is exciting because you wouldn’t see them normally,” Sacks said. She added that the films will “bring up so much nostalgia” for those like her who were raised in South Africa.

“I’m particularly excited about bringing all South Africans together from around this country,” Sacks said.

The few she has connected with via social media and other platforms enjoy getting together over traditional South African food and speaking Afrikaans, among other activities, she said.

Davis said non-South Africans will “get a good idea of the history” of the country from the film festival, especially from pieces like “Life is Wonderful,” about a White man convicted with Nelson Mandela in 1964.

Admission to the full South African Film Festival USA costs $75 for a one-person pass and $95 for a household pass.

Individual films will be available when the festival starts and are $9 per person or $12 per household.

Films can be viewed anytime during the festival, Sacks said.

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