KwaMashu sees the light

Durban’s robust campaign to attract interest in its local film industry is about to take a leap forward with the launch of a new international film festival in KwaMashu, the city’s oldest township.

The week-long KwaMashu Film Festival, which begins on December 10, will feature more than 14 international award-winning documentaries from eight countries. Acclaimed directors and producers from the United States, Britain and South Africa will host daily filmmaking workshops and panel discussions.

What is remarkable about this event though, is that it is the concept of a small, struggling township arts organisation, which is laying on screenings and sessions at an impressive new arts complex in Ekhaya, one of KwaMashu’s poorest neighbourhoods.

“The idea for the festival grew out of the video documentary training programme we have here at Ekhaya,” said Edmund Mhlongo, director of KwaMashu Community Advancement Projects (K-CAP).

In a city, and a country, where township arts groups have little more than dusty classrooms or dilapidated community halls to work in, the Ekhaya Multi-Arts Centre is a little-known but staggering success story.

Completed earlier this year, the R2,3-million arts centre boasts a 350-seater theatre, a state-of-the-art digital music recording studio, a 10-computer graphic design studio and dance studios.

And as a testament to the true grit of many township community groups, Ekhaya was built by and is run by a youth arts group that began in a borrowed classroom a decade ago.

The inaugural festival, which is supported by the KwaZulu-Natal Economic Development and Finance Department, is decidedly Afro-centric, exploring the work of black South African filmmakers and their counterparts in the African diaspora, particularly the United States.

“The films largely have to do with African-American life and history because there are a lot of parallels between the experiences of black Americans and South Africans,” said festival programmer, Jacquie Jones, herself a Durban-based African-American filmmaker. “Most of these films haven’t been shown in Durban, and many have never shown in South Africa before so the festival offers an opportunity to bring film enthusiasts into the township.”

The line-up includes the acclaimed Two Towns of Jasper, a look at the racial divide in the Texan town that gained notoriety when a black resident was dragged to death behind a pick-up truck by white supremacists. There’s also Girl Trouble, which follows the lives of three teenage girls caught up in the US juvenile justice system; and South African Love Story: Walter and Abertina Sisulu, a portrait of one of the nation’s most famous couples.

The festival’s mission, says Jones, is to bring compelling examples of documentary film into the community as an inspiration to aspirant filmmakers to document their own stories.

The American productions are presented in collaboration with the New York-based National Black Programming Consortium, a non-profit body committed to funding and promoting positive images of African-Americans and the African Diaspora.

The programme features a student film showcase, presenting talent from film/TV training institutions across South Africa, as well as the launch of an initiative for training scriptwriters, led by the Durban Film Office and the South African Scriptwriters’ Association.

Opening the festival is Jozi writer/ director Teddy Mattera’s Max and Mona, a comedy about the fortunes of a village bumpkin with a gift for weeping at funerals.

For Mhlongo, the event is an affirmation of the sweat organisations like his have to put into realising their dreams. He spent the past decade tirelessly fundraising to build the complex. Eventually, with support from British-based NGO Christian Aid, the national lottery and a local casino, Ekhaya opened its doors in April this year.

The challenge now is to be self-sustainable because funding is a problem, says Mhlongo. Ironically, K-CAP’s successful running of the complex has acted against it. “We have to go abroad to get funding because we struggle to get money from the city. The attitude is that because we are so well organised and have this nice centre, we don’t need money like other organisations do.”

But the dogged determination that saw the rise of this body and its complex has led Mhlongo on to new targets. He is setting up a craft village in the precinct, where local weavers and beaders will pounce on busloads of tourists stopping off at Ekhaya on township tours. “The philosophy is ‘don’t wait, do it now’,” he says.

The details

The festival takes place at the Ekhaya Multi-Arts Centre, B25 Giya Road, KwaMashu, from December 10 to 17. Visit www.geocities.com/kwamashufilmfest

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