A British perspective

By Kelly Crane, Staff Reporter

There wasn't a dry eye in the house as Sandra Laing, the real-life subject of Monday night's gala screening of Skin, received a standing ovation after a surprise appearance.

The audience erupted as Anthony Fabian, first-time feature film director of Skin, introduced Laing — a black woman born to white parents in apartheid South Africa.

A film full of emotion, it wasn't difficult to see where Fabian got his inspiration as Laing struggled to speak in front of the 1,200-strong crowd who stood before her.

Fighting back the tears and in sentences often finished or added to by Fabian, she said: "I just want to be able to say I'm sorry to my parents and ask their forgiveness."

Questions from a clearly sympathetic and intrigued audience followed and Laing and Fabian answered between them.

Actress Alice Krige, who plays Laing's mother in the 107 minute movie, Fabian and Laing with her husband Johannes Motloung walked the red carpet before the screening.

The incredibly shy Laing said she was having a wonderful time in Dubai. "I am very happy to be here," she said, her eyes downcast. "I am so happy the film is being shown here as a gala screening. Thank you."

Fabian stepped in and explained why he felt the film was so important today. "This film needs to be seen as the messages are so important. It is wonderful to have Skin as the gala screening and we hope everyone enjoys the movie. The atmosphere is great, the venue is great and the people are even better."

Skin, selected as the gala film for the Cultural Bridge programme, follows Laing's life from the age of around 10.

It explores the grim absurdities of apartheid South Africa as Laing, who faces a lifetime subjected to the cruelties of segregation, despite her white family, is legally classified first white, then black and then white again before her 16th birthday.

Her parents stoically fight to overturn governmental oppression, but when Laing falls in love and elopes with Petrus, a black man, her father and brother disown her.

Sophie Okonedo, who plays Laing, does a fantastic job of capturing the full spectrum of her character, from traumatic childhood through to maturity and adulthood as a proud African woman.

A South African perspective

By Eduan Maggo, Sub Editor

Following the Middle East premiere of Skin on Monday night, allow me, dear reader, to voice what I would probably have been stoned for voicing then — Skin was a disappointment.

The film follows a traditional structure to cover 40 years in the life of Sandra Laing — a black woman born to white parents through a genetic throwback. Add to that apartheid era South Africa as the setting and one has material rich with potential. Especially as it is based on a true story.

But this would prove to be Skin's Achilles' heel. Director Anthony Fabian is an award winning documentarian, and it shows. His close relationship with his subject matter translates onto the screen and delivers a picture with feature film pretentions but the feel of a documentary.

Fabian manages to build emotion through the performances by Alice Krige (very convincing as mother Sannie), Sam Neill (not his best work as father Abraham) and Sophie Okonedo (unless a lifeless performance was intended, she failed to impress as Sandra), but then squanders it through nonsensical changes in tone.

It is almost as if he is reminded from time to time that he's making a feature film, or decides that the audience won't stomach an elevation in emotion and then subsequently he pulls his punches.

As a tale of human suffering it works. But as a piece of cinematic art, Skin doesn't convince. Had Fabian stuck to the dramatisation of true events as he set out to do, it could have been in the league of Crash.