WITH themes of corruption and brutality at its centre, filmmaker Jyoti Mistry’s new film Impunity is a profound investigation into contemporary South Africa and the seat of power. In a country where people who commit crime are often seen to be exempt from punishment, or free from the consequences of their actions, the film invites its audience to reflect on the nature of violence.
In a similar vein to Natural Born Killers, Impunity is a fictional story centred on a young, attractive couple who commit acts of crime and violence, leaving a trail of murders in their wake.
“In a country where violent crime remains disturbingly high, the film invites self-reflection,” says Mistry. “Having screened the film at the Toronto Film Festival in 2014, and earlier this year at the Durban International Film Festival, I’m interested to see how general South African audiences respond to the story and the visual language of the film.”
Impunity tells the story of a young couple, Derren (Bjorn Steinbach) and Echo (Alex McGregor), who work as waiters. A Special Crimes Unit investigator Dingande Fakude (Desmond Dube) and a local police detective and trained psychologist Naveed Khan (Vaneshran Arumugam), take them in for questioning after a high-profile murder.
The two lawmen find themselves caught up in political corruption and conspiracy when they investigate the gruesome killing of a cabinet minister’s daughter, found in an exclusive African safari resort after a party celebrating her engagement to a rising political star.
The film is interspersed with cuts to security-cam and news footage of violence, both criminal and accidental, as well as newspaper headlines highlighting some of the estimated 650 000 violent crimes that take place each year.
It soon becomes clear that Derren and Echo, who were working as waiters at the engagement party, are caught up in a frenzied, bloody adventure.
As Dingande and Naveed begin to piece events together, it seems the perpetrators will be brought to book. Instead, however, they are drawn further into the high-profile murder case. Eventually, as they uncover a trail of murders, they are faced with a moral dilemma involving the new political elite.
Mistry’s background as a successful artist and experimental filmmaker is clear in the film’s much-lauded rich visual language, which features picturesque beachfronts and dry bushveld, intercut with harsh realities of life in South Africa.
The Toronto Film Festival organisers described Impunity as “an eye-opening jolt, casting an unwavering gaze on South Africa’s increasingly troubling surrender to the banality of violence.”
Mistry studied filmmaking and cinema studies at New York University. Her short films include We Remember Differently (2005) and I Mike What I Like (2006). Impunity is her second feature, after the experimental film The Bull on the Roof (2010) which was part of a retrospective on transgressive South African Cinema at the Jeu de Paume, Paris (2013).
Mistry’s installation work was included in the exhibitions ‘Afropolis: City, Media, Art’ in Cologne, Germany; ‘Space: About a Dream’ at Kunsthalle Vienna, Austria and in the Incheon Women’s Biennale, South Korea (2011).
Her short film 09:21:25 was in competition at Kurzfilmtage Winterthur (2011). In 2013, her solo exhibition ‘Narrative, Memory, Site’ was shown at the Museum Bärengasse in Zurich.
An associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Department of Film and Television, Mistry teaches writing for experimental film and documentary. Her areas of research and writing include cultural policy, questions of identity and multiculturalism.
Gaze Regimes: Film and Feminisms in Africa co-edited with Antje Schuhmann (2015) is published by Wits University Press, Johannesburg.
Mistry was a participant of the Independent Study Programme at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and scholar in residence at Filmuniversity Babelsberg Konrad Wolf.
Impunity is produced by Blackboard Trust, Shadowy Meadows Productions and Bioskope Pictures, with additional funding from the Department of Trade and Industry, National Film and Video Foundation, and the Gauteng Film Commission. It was made possible through a generous grant from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, the principal funder, to Blackboard Trust.
The film opens in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town on August 28.