Beyond the River at the Sonoma Film Festival

Beyond the River, the 2017 South African film which touched the hearts of South African audiences, closed to cheers at its screening at the Sonoma Film Festival in California last week.

The film, loosely based on the true story of the sporting partnership between Piers Cruickshanks and Siseko Ntondini, was recently nominated for four SAFTAs (and won one for cinematography), and had been selected for the Sonoma Film Festival, in Northern California.

A South African contingent, led by executive producer, Brad Fisher, Ntondini, as well as Cruickshanks and Ntondini’s current racing partner, Sbonelo Khwela made the journey to California in the hope of spreading awareness of the film and the social consciousness around it. An extraordinary invitation was also extended to the original duo (Cruickshanks and Ntondini) to address the Los Angeles World Affairs Council – an influential and connected audience – on the experience of their involvement in the film and its significance in the South African context.

Said Cruickshanks of the screening, and the experience as a whole: “It was fascinating to see US audiences – particularly the LA World Affairs Council members – hanging on every word when we spoke about race issues. There was a sense that we in SA are so much further down the line in that sphere and that they can learn from us – when we know that we, ourselves have so far to go and so much to learn. An incredible experience with several life highlights which I will never forget – especially speaking to the LAWAC and filling a cinema in Santa Monica to watch our all-South African produced film.”

The film, produced by South African NGO, Heartlines, tells the story of the experienced and gritty but partly broken Steve – played by Grant Swanby – and the lion-hearted, rookie-come-upstart from the squatter camp, Duma) and the confluence of their journeys to self-realisation.

The film’s success comes on the back of a 15-year partnership and social development project led by outdoor media company, ADreach. Ntondini, a long-time beneficiary of the project at just 23 years old says, “our club is not just about sport, it’s about the lessons one learns through sport and how to apply it to our education and chosen careers.”

The Sonoma Film Festival, now in its 21st year has established its niche in the American film festival market by screening 90 hand-selected films including independent features, documentaries, world cinema, and short films. The festival creates an opportunity for the film to gain some international traction, and, more importantly, to share a triumphant, good news, South African story in the context of world media currently beset with doom and gloom.