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“He died exactly as he lived – with tremendous grace, great dignity and very much on his own terms…”

– Alex and Eliza Bolen, 

From the news of the Pistorius sentence to the death of De la Renta, the name Oscar is a heavy one to hear today.

The fallen Paralympic star was given his sentence today (5 years, which effectively boils down to 10 months with parole) for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. But just before this story began its end in court, the iconic designer died at his home in Connecticut, two hours outside of New York where his influence had become stitched into the fabric of the city.

De la Renta’s family, and the executives of his company, posted a statement on his website, describing his work ethic and love of life, which was evident right up until he showed his last collection at New York Fashion Week just a few days ago. Although he was born in the Dominican Republic, de la Renta became one of America’s biggest names over the past 5 decades – making women from the White House to Hollywood feel beautiful. Oh, how us mere mortals would swoon at the sight of his elegant and tulle-filled designs.

Sarah Jessica Parker, Kerry Washington, Oprah, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama (eventually), Penelope Cruz – all wore his creations. One of my favourite gowns remains the number SJP wore to the Met Ball earlier this year. She reportedly asked de la Renta, at the time, to sign his name to his dress, saying he would never do it of his own accord. As the pic from FashionDaily shows, it added a striking yet soft touch to the gown.


And which Sex and the City fan worth her weight in Manolos could forget the scene where Carrie reads Petrovsky the kind of poetry she loved, Oscar-inspired words, naturally.

For an in-depth look at De la Renta’s life and career, this Women’s Wear Daily obit is a comprehensive and inspiring piece, while the Washington Post, like many others, has compiled a list of his best gowns.

May his soul rest in peace.

[Pic: OscardelaRenta.com]

With the Chicago Marathon done and dusted, my attention turns back to focus on the wonderful Ubuntu series that has taken over New York City, most specifically, Carnegie Hall.

The opening night reception was lovely – it was already going to be an incredible evening with just the lineup alone, but to sit inside the hallowed space of Carnegie Hall and listen to Vusi “The Voice” Mahlasela and Hugh Masekela bring their songs to an American stage, with special guests, was beyond what I’d hoped it would be.

Backed by a supremely talented band – Mongezi Ntaka on guitar, Bakithi Kumalo on bass, Ian Herman on drums and Francis Fuster on percussion – the evening was a trip down South Africa’s memory lane. Earlier this year, Masekela performed some of these songs for his 75th Birthday celebration at Dizzy’s at Lincoln Center. But, as Bra Hugh told us, he’d always wanted to perform with Vusi, and this night in New York City allowed him to. They complemented each other marvelously – Bra Hugh adding his trumpet to Say Africa and Vusi strumming along to Bra Hugh’s US hit Grazing in the Grass.

Having Dave Matthews join them to perform two poignant and pivotal struggle songs was among the night’s highlights. So many of my American friends still don’t know that the singer is South African, having been born in Johannesburg, before moving to the US in the 80s. He geeked out on stage, as he took his place next to Bra Hugh and Vusi, and told us he grew up listening to drummer Ian Herman’s band Tananas (great band!)

Dave added his signature voice to Johnny Clegg’s Asimbonanga and Bright Blue’s Weeping. Both songs are enough to bring tears to any South African’s eyes, but to hear them so far away from home, within the pristine walls of Carnegie Hall was something extra special. Singer Somi brought out her African roots as she performed a version of the late Miriam Makeba’s love song Malaika that made me quiver in my seat.

The following night, the younger set – Simphiwe Dana, Tumi Molekane, The Soil – took over the Apollo for a show I missed, while carbo-loading in Chicago. From the NY Times account, seems it was a memorable one too.

The music and the memories continue this weekend. Jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim takes to Carnegie Hall on Friday night, and on Saturday multiple Grammy winning, Mean Girls-mentioned group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo will shake things up with their ‘isicathamiya’-style vocals, together with guests Thokoza and the Bakithi Kumalo Band. They’ll be playing a special kids-friendly show on Sunday, and Ibrahim will also play a free neighbourhood concert in Harlem on Monday night.

As if that wasn’t enough, the CMJ music fest is almost upon us – and a handful of young South African musicians are jetting in to showcase their latest sounds. I’m looking forward to seeing the likes of Beatenburg and Christian Tiger School, among others.

So much music, time to make the time!

Carnegie Hall’s Ubuntu series tickets can be found here, and CMJ details can be found here

It’s a rare occurrence when a movie opens outside the US before it opens here. Such was the case this past weekend with Dracula Untold, where the film opened in South Africa, the UK and other European countries a week before being shown here. It topped the box office in SA, and when it did play here on Thursday night, the film scored a not-too-shabby $1.3 million in midnight screenings.

Heading into to see the film ahead of interviews with the cast, I wondered about the necessity of another vampire story, and an origin story at that. The numbers after this weekend will answer, to a large degree, that question. Most people know Dracula as a count – at least I did – this film presents him as a prince, played by Luke Evans. Canadian actress Sarah Gadon, a past recipient of the Toronto Film Festival’s Rising Star accolade, plays his wife, part of the family and kingdom he must save.

I spoke to Mr Evans and Ms Gadon about why the time is right for a re-telling of the Dracula story. And because I have Sunday’s Chicago Marathon on the brain, I ‘told’ Evans I’d like to enlist a little bat power of my own…

Pic: Universal 

Sometimes you really are spoilt for choice living in New York City. A Saturday can hold so many possibilities for filling the day. This Saturday I didn’t have to do a long run as part of my marathon training, because I ran on Friday night with a bunch of friends. I’ve become used to running more than 10 miles on a Saturday morning, then eating, and then lying on my couch watching old movies for the rest of the day (it’s called recovery!). Being able to spend the afternoon walking, I took a stroll to one of my favourite movie theatres in the city – the Landmark Sunshine, to catch a screening of Keep On Keepin’ On.

The music documentary, made by an Australian director, Alan Hicks (who is also a jazz drummer) over a period of 5 years, is a heart-warming tribute to one of jazz music’s most endearing characters, if not as well-known as many others, Clark Terry. A trumpet player with the best of them, Terry has been teaching many other lovers of the genre how to imbibe their instruments with soul and discover their own personalities through the music. He mentored Miles Davis and his first student was none other than Quincy Jones – who became so good, Terry actually left the Duke Ellington Orchestra to play for Jones’.

These stories and more come out during the doc, as it follows a young musician, Justin Kauflin, a pianist who is blind, who takes lessons from Terry. Their friendship develops as Terry teaches Kauflin all about the douba-douba-doubleee doooo and helps him along his way. It’s not an easy friendship – or should I say it isn’t one filled without hardships. Kauflin’s nerves bother him more so than his physical restrictions, and Terry becomes bed-ridden due to a diabetes. But the moments they share, captured so delicately for us by filmmakers who obviously have earned the trust and commitment from those they are following, are moving and tender.

A man like Terry deserves to be recognized and remembered, while still alive, and this film gives him that deserving tribute. As with any good student/teacher relationship on screen, it’s about more than just learning the specificities of music and the techniques required to stand out; it’s about how to handle that which life throws at us.

After the screening, Kauflin came out, led by his gorgeous seeing-eye dog, and played a composition he wrote for Terry, called For Clark, and answered a few questions. I hadn’t expected this, so it was great to see him in person, and hear about the progress he has made since filming the doc. Walking out of Keep On Keepin’ On, I found myself with a new catch-phrase for life – and I know I’m not the only one who’ll benefit from seeing this doc.

The film, which won TriBeCa Film Festival’s Audience Prize, is on limited release in the US, but keep an eye out for it elsewhere. For more details, go here

As the Oscar race slowly starts building up, so countries have been submitting their films for consideration into the best foreign language category.

South Africa hasn’t had a nominee in this category since Gavin Hood’s Tsotsi won it in 2006. This year, a film shot entirely in the language of Venda has been selected by the local committee, for consideration. It needs to make the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ long-list and then short-list to become one of the 5 nominees.

Elelwani (which means ‘to remember’ or ‘recall’) was made in 2012, but released in January 2014. It earned Florence Masebe, a well-known TV star taking on her first film feature role, a Best Actress win at the Africa Movie Academy Awards. Directed by Ntshavheni wa Lurulithe, the film is based on a book written by Dr Titus Ntsieni Maumela, who was a teacher in the 1950s.

There are already some strong contenders – from Argentina’s Wild Tales (made up of 5 impeccably-directed vignettes) to Sweden’s moral dramedy Force Majeure, which have become festival favourites. They were certainly among my most-enjoyed films from this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Mommy, which I saw at Toronto, by Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, is by far one of my best films of the year and has been selected by Canada for its submission. While also at Toronto last month, I kept hearing such positive things about Leviathan, which won Best Screenplay at Cannes earlier this year, and is Russia’s submission, even though its been reported the Russian Ministry of Culture, which funded the film, didn’t like its criticism of the current regime.

The deadline was October 1st, and in January next year, the long-list will be announced. After that, two committees, one in LA and one in New York, will vote to determine the five nods to be made public along with all the other nominees that will be announced come January 15th. For a more thorough look into the films, read Scott Weinberg’s column over at The Hollywood Reporter.

Last year the Academy chose Italy’s The Great Beauty as its winner – a well-deserving honour for a film that is breathtaking in its visual style yet edgy in its commentary about Italian culture at present. Perhaps not being too gentle on one’s home country helps in the Oscar race, and in turn, gaining a little sliver of the Hollywood spotlight for a local film industry.