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Train of Salt and Sugar – a film by Licínio Azevedo for Joburg Film Festival

18 Oct 2016

Train of Salt and Sugar – a film by Licínio Azevedo for Joburg Film Festival

 In a harrowing revelation of a particular time and place, comes a universal story of mankind’s extraordinary collective ability to survive and press-on against all odds.  This is the latest film by celebrated Brazilian-born, Mozambiquan-based auteur Licínio Azevedo: Train of Salt and Sugar which will have its African premiere in Competition at the Joburg Film Festival on October 29, 2016.

Set in the civil-war-torn northern Mozambique during the late 80’s, the film has been hailed by some critics as the first “great African Western”, when it premiered in August this year on the 300-square metre screen in at the Locarno Film Festival at the Piazza Grande in Switzerland to a crowd of more than 7000 people. The film won the Independent Italian Critics Award (Boccalini d’Ouro) there for Best Film.

With script by the director together with Teresa Pereira, adapted from the book of the same name written by Azevedo, the story unfolds in Mozambique in the midst of civil war. A single train connects Nampula in Mozambique to Malawi. No civilians are allowed and yet hundreds risk their lives through 700km of sabotaged tracks. Salomão and Taiar are two soldiers who don’t get along. Rosa is a young nurse on her way to her first job, who soon becomes an object of desire. Mariamu, her close friend, only hopes to trade salt for sugar. Amongst bullets and laughter, life goes on and stories unfold as the train advances under attack, ever so slowly, towards the next stop.

“I was in Cuamba, the capital of the province of Niassa in the north, the last train stop before the border to Malawi, its final destination,” says Azevedo.  “The city was isolated from the rest of the country by road. The train’s arrivals got increasingly spaced in time and a large crowd would gather in the station to meet them. I had the chance to see one of the arrivals and see the terrible state of those who disembarked, weeks after starting the journey in which they risked their lives.”

“I was interested in the people that travelled on this train taking salt from the coast to exchange for sugar in Malawi. Then they returned to Mozambique and sold the sugar. This was to support their families. But is was a hellish journey.”

Produced by Ukbar Filmes (Portugal), Ébano Multimédia (Mozambique), Les Films de l’Étranger (France), Panda Filmes (Brazil), and avant-garde South African company Urucu Media with the support of M-Net and M-Net’s Portuguese channel Jango Magic in Africa. Internationally the film won production awards from Ibermedia, CNC, Fundo Setorial, Euroimages to name a few. Urucu Media previously produced best South African Film Award winner at DIFF, Necktie Youth by Sibs Shongwe La-Mer in 2015 and will release in early 2017 the anticipated feature debut by John Trengove The Wound, which won two awards at the Venice Film Festival for work-in-progress.

Train of Salt and Sugar was filmed in southern Mozambique and stars Matamba Joaquim as Taiar, Melanie de Vales Rafael as Rosa, Thiago Justino as Salomão, António Nipita as Sete Maneiras and Sabina Fonseca as Mariamu.

Getting permission from the government to film was not easy says Azevedo “The authorities finally gave us the go ahead when we had already started shooting. We were grateful that the Ministry of Defence, actually supported the production and ended up giving us thirty soldiers who trained our actors.”

The film, shot over 7 weeks on 13 wagons of a train, was a challenge for the production and creative team. Describing the process, Azevedo says “It was practical and infernal. It would have been impossible without the unconditional support from the Mozambican Railways. During the shooting, the sound engineer did an amazing job, sieged by the sounds of wheels creaking, the engine running… back then they couldn’t ever turn off the engine because if they did so, the engine wouldn’t start. That’s a little piece of realism we brought into the movie. The train’s cacophony is permanent, a fundamental sound track that was punctuated by Schwalbach with traditional African instruments, drums and using the mbira to punctuate the love scenes.”

Although the film is set in a specific period, South African producer Elias Ribeiro, of Urucu Media believes that it tells a story that speaks to many realities of conflict around world, and moves beyond its specific locale. “Its tangible tension, terrifying cruelty, yet inspiring and heart-warming humanness is what will speak to any audience across the world.”

Train of Salt and Sugar, which was a selected project at the 2014 Durban FilmMart, has it’s SA premiere at the Joburg Film Festival on 29th of October at 4 pm. Entrance is free of charge on a first comes first basis at the iconic Alexander Theatre in Braamfontein. Melanie de Vales Rafael (Rosa), the director and Urucu Media team will be in attendance at the premiere in Johannesburg. It will play again at 4 pm on the 2nd and the 5th of November at Nouveau Rosebank as part of the festival, patrons will need to buy tickets for these screenings in Rosebank.

Following the festival run the film will have a limited theatrical release in Johannesburg  and Cape Town from the 11th of November for two weeks only. Joburg screenings will be at the Bioscope, check their website for schedule (www.thebioscope.co.za), and in Cape Town at the Labia with a daily screening at 6:15 pm.