Opening Night was a South African-themed event, due to a showcase of South African docs in the fest and a
commemoration of ten years of democracy in SA following the fall of Apartheid. The festival was even visited by
anti-apartheid legend and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Bishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu. Oddly enough, the
opening night film, Raising Helen from director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman,
Runaway Bride) had absolutely nothing to do with South Africa or the themes of a struggle for freedom, racial
equality or even traditional music. It was, to say the least, a very odd choice to screen preceding the opening night
A run of the mill romantic comedy. the pic had a few laugh out loud moments, most of them generated by the always sublime Joan Cusack, but was otherwise a "seen it before" affair. Stars included Kate Hudson as Helen and John Corbett.
Upon walking into downtown Manhattan's Winter Garden, one was immediately struck by the enormous ziggurat that was serving as a stage. South African music was playing and the room was beset with towering faux palm trees, while a South African dance and drum troop entertained. The buzz around the party was that the band coming up next was "amazing." Not having read the program of the evening, I was thrilled to find that none other than South African legend Johnny Clegg. Often referred to as the "White Zulu," Clegg grew up in Zimbabwe and South Africa and has become one of the most famous and accomplished symbols of black/white musical and cultural integration. Not only that, their short set rocked, with Clegg playing my favorite song of his, "Dela."
After Clegg's performance finished, the DJ went back to playing African music and a traditional South African dance circle formed, with about 20 people arranged in a circle, dancing, with one or two people dancing in the center. Every so often those in the center would pull someone else in and then rejoin the circle. Fantastic and spontaneous, the best way to do these things!
Food and drink were plentiful and the party seemed to kick off the festival with a very good vibe.