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'Of Good Report' overcomes a shaky start

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Are you Parker Sithole?

The question served as the original title for "Of Good Report," which screens Thursday as the opening night film of the 22nd Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles. Set in the South African countryside, the film follows a troubled teacher named Parker Sithole (Mothusi Magano), who begins an illicit relationship with the beautiful student Nolitha (Petronella Tshuma) — a relationship that takes a brutal turn and forces Parker to battle past demons.

More subtly, the film noir explores the lies that people tell and the morals that they bend to justify actions, at any expense.

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"Of Good Report" is about "the little murders we commit in our own lives," said the film's South African director, Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, adding: "We're guilty only once we get caught."

Qubeka's film caused a stir at the 34th Durban International Film Festival in July. South Africa's Film and Publication Board refused to give the film a rating, equating one scene to child pornography, even though Tshuma was in her early 20s when she filmed the movie. The decision initially prevented the film from screening at the Durban festival and knocked it out of the competition. Qubeka taped his mouth in protest and, in a video captured on YouTube, walked through a crowd of confused festival-goers, shaking hands with people expressing disappointment.

"I had too much to say," Qubeka said in a recent Skype interview from his hotel room in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where "Of Good Report" was screening at another festival. "I felt words would be cheap."

The South African film board overturned its decision on appeal and handed down a "16" rating, which means no one under age 16 allowed, and "Of Good Report" did show at the end of Durban's festival. The film also made the rounds at festivals in Toronto, London and Chicago.

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"We thought it was provocative and also, on a certain level, it was entertainment," said Ayuko Babu, executive director of the Pan African Film Festival, who saw Qubeka's film in Durban. He praised Qubeka's direction and willingness to explore the motivations behind Parker and Nolitha's taboo relationship.

Qubeka, 35, won the Pan African festival's Founders' Award for best feature in 2012 for "A Small Town Called Descent," about murder in Zimbabwe. Violence returns as a theme in his new film, with subtle pop culture references such as the magazine in Parker's shanty with the Showtime serial killer Dexter on its cover. But Qubeka said he didn't create "Of Good Report" to preach, only to continue with the tradition of film as an avenue for escapism and conversation.

"It's not the kind of piece you sit back, relax and watch. By design, it demands a response from you, whether you love it, or get up and hit the switch and walk away," Qubeka said. "In that sense, that's enough for me."

The director, whose 13-year career has included shorts and documentaries, said it's important for him never to revisit old work, but he said he might make an exception for Parker Sithole.

"I'd revisit him in about 15 years," Qubeka said, joking that he just needs to wait for the actor who plays Parket to get older. "Good makeup is hard to come by."

alicia.banks@latimes.com

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22nd Pan African Film Festival

What: More than 170 feature films, shorts, documentaries and webseries representing 46 countries

When: Opening night film "Of Good Report" is 8 p.m. Thursday. Festival runs through Feb. 17.

Where: Rave Cinemas 15, Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, 4020 Marlton Ave., Los Angeles

Cost: $6-$12 regular screenings, $150 opening night. Check festival website for pricing on other special screenings.

Info: (310) 337-4737, http://www.paff.org

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