Deep thoughts and short takes

A new series of short films began airing on DStv’s Channel 199 this week, the result of the broadcaster’s annual nationwide search for the best directors in this format. Entries for the DStv Film Talent ­Celebration competition opened in October last year and the jury received more than 300 films. The themes range from love to violence, religion and contemporary ­architecture in an urban African setting. Matthew Krouse spoke to some of the winning filmmakers.

Kabelo Molefe
Filmmaker: Kabelo Molefe (27) is director, producer and editor of the short black-and-white movie Thandeka Faku. It is a horrific story of a young woman’s abuse told directly to camera in the first person and in a matter-of-fact manner. To summarise, she has grown up with her mother and stepfather. He is battering her mother, who dies. Thandeka becomes a ward of her stepfather, who rapes her. To overcome her pain, she becomes a party animal and a cocaine addict.

The movie is intended to be immediate and documentary-like. At the end, the girl breaks out of the character and one realises that it has been an audition.

Filmmaker’s statement: I have basically done short inserts, for Fashion Week, dramas for e.tv — basically corporate stuff. But Thandeka Faku was the first film I edited, produced and directed. I was nominated for best director as well.

It was addressing the issues that I see in my community, but not necessarily anything that I have experienced myself. These are just things that I see, but things that are hidden. They are things that happen to young girls like Thandeka Faku and even to young boys — things that come from families and are never addressed.

You hear about them when the boy or the girl is much older, when he or she can finally talk about it. It was addressing those things and how our community has become numb to it — it is almost the norm.

At the end, the girl breaks out of character. It was a creative decision. All throughout the work, horrible things have happened to her. I did not say that what has happened to her is okay, but I wanted it to have a happy ending.

Favourite films and filmmakers:
I am a lover of art films. One local film that I think is underrated but is still a very good film is Oliver Schmitz’s Mapantsula with Thomas Mogotlane. Internationally, I would say City of God and Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream.

Next project: I am hoping to do a documentary on the photographer Santu Mofokeng.

Vukile Ngcingwana
Filmmaker: Vukile Ngcingwana (24) is producer and lead actor in the drama Ibhayibhile (The Bible), the work that won his collaborator, Sakhumzi Mati, the best director award in the competition.

In this hyperreal work about township violence, he plays a young gangster living with his grandmother in the tough township of Gugulethu. Fate brings him face to face with a humble, vulnerable preacher on a day when he is on a mugging spree with his homeboys. An existential crisis helps him to turn his back on a life of crime and instead he turns to the Bible.

Filmmaker’s statement: I am from Port St Johns but now I am working in Jo’burg. Sakhumzi and I met while working on a film in the Eastern Cape and we went to Cape Town together.

The movie is based on real events in Gugulethu. The director lives in a shack in the area and this is what he witnesses from day to day. He really wanted to tell a story about what he sees — from the mother who is working hard, going to church, to the kids getting up to mischief.

We met on an international film set where we were assistants because we wanted to learn how to make films. It was called Albert ­Schweitzer, by Two Oceans Productions (2009). That was the first film where I worked behind the scenes because I am an actor — I studied acting.
Predominantly, I want to act and that is why I produce. I don’t want to go to castings and depend on someone to employ me. I want to be able to create work as well. We all have stories that we’d like to share.

Sakhumzi has a church background and is a member of the council in the community. We tried to be as real as possible, showing real events that could appeal to both church­goers and your short film elite. In the plot, the old lady is scared at home. She is afraid that she might get robbed by the same people who hang out with her grandson.

Favourite films and filmmakers: I really admire the South African actor Tony Kgoroge [Hotel Rwanda]. ­Others who inspire me are Rapulana Seiphemo and Kenneth Nkosi [makers of Paradise Stop and White Wedding]. They are both actors, yet they are extending their craft, making films. That’s my direction.

Internationally, I enjoyed Training Day with Denzel Washington, Seven Pounds with Will Smith and What Women Want with Mel Gibson.

Next project: I am working on a documentary about a white woman who relocated from Pietersburg [Polokwane] to Katlehong. She lives in the township and speaks seven different languages. Soon I will be shooting a documentary on the Brian Mitchell and Jacob Morake four-fight saga. It will be directed by Brian Mitchell Jr and I am ­producing it.

Benitha Vlok
Filmmaker: The surreal, poetic film by Benitha Vlok (32) has a Danish name, Fortabt — Loss of Love. It is set predominantly in the sea where a young woman is floating. A voice-over narrates the experiences of an elderly South African man who seems unrelated to the central ­character.

In the competition, the project received the best cinematography award for its photographer, Michael Matthews.

Filmmaker’s statements:
Fortabt is a Danish word that means loss of love. It is not the loss of anything else. The whole film is based on a very specific experience. I had just come back from Denmark, where I took part in a real-time film competition in which the film got made in the first place. I had had a heartbreak myself in Denmark, my ex is Danish, so that is where the title came from.

Last year I was approached by Shnit Realtime, a short-film festival in Switzerland that runs simultaneously in five cities around the world, and this was the first year it was held in Cape Town. During the festival they chose three filmmakers in each city to compete and make a short film in three days, in 72 hours. There was one day to shoot, one day to edit and one day to mix.

There was a theme — Cape of Storms — for this festival and that is how I interpreted it: an internal storm that went with my experience.

I am a documentary filmmaker and I wanted to keep a documentary element in it. Also, I wanted it to be genderless and ageless, which is why I wanted an old man and a young woman’s experience. So I went looking for an old man.

I found a guy at a Sea Point old-age home, somebody with the most beautiful voice, who would speak to me about his own life and his own experience of the loss of love.

I did a 51-minute interview with a 78-year-old bachelor who has never been in love. He told me about a whole range of experiences in his life related to a sense of love and a sense of loss — and that is where the topic of storms and cold came in.

It was interesting because he ended up telling me, related to his sense of loss, about losing his brother, who had drowned at the age of 18. And when he talked about going under he talked about a time when he nearly drowned — these were all very real stories.

After the film was finished I took it back to him at the old-age home and I filmed him viewing it. I wanted him to be okay with the fact that I had reconstructed it differently from what he had told me, and he was blown away.

Favourite filmmaker:
Lars von Trier. I like the way he is constantly pushing himself, breaking boundaries and experimenting.

Next project: To raise funds to do music videos for the band Lark. Inge Beckmann has approached me with a track from their new album.

Christopher Bisset
Filmmaker: A Procura de Pancho (Looking for Pancho) is a love song to veteran Lisbon-based Mozambican architect Amancio Pancho Guedes.

Set in Maputo, a young architect explores the urban spaces designed by Guedes in the city’s colonial heyday. Murals and art work by Guedes literally dance off the buildings in nifty, lively stop-frame animations. For his sterling effort, filmmaker Christopher Bisset (25) won best newcomer in the competition.

Filmmaker’s statement:
Pancho Guedes is still alive — he lives with his daughter in Lisbon. He is in his 90s. Physically, time has taken its toll, but mentally he is still right there. I heard him speak about his work at an exhibition that was curated at the Iziko Museum, which was actually the reason why I got fascinated with him.

I was going to be an architect. Got up to honours, finished my honours in 2010 and, actually because of Pancho, I started to pursue filmmaking.
The person in the movie is my friend Steven Hitchcock. He is an architect — he was in his master’s year when we shot the film.

Once a year the master’s students go on an architectural tour. They were going to Maputo and I heard about this and I realised that I had to make this film, because they had been approached by a group called the Cement and Concrete Institute that had given them a grant to make a film. So I went to them and I told them that I had made films before and I wanted to do this one — I am capable; help me and let me do it.

I think Pancho Guedes is one of the few practitioners, certainly that Africa has ever had, who was able to combine the freedoms that an artist has with the technical rigour of what architects do — and he was always playful. It is very easy for the profession to descend into extremely boring drainage sections and sanitary-ware scheduling. It can quickly become an accounting exercise and quite mundane.

But something about his spirit would never let that happen. He produced more than 500 buildings and each of them has this essence, this spirit that he never lost. It is really inspiring, especially as a young architect, to see a man who, in his whole career, was able to preserve that integrity and keep playing.

Favourite filmmaker: Michel Gondry. His 2008 Be Kind, Rewind was really amazing. Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire, Vanilla Sky and Almost Famous may not be high art, but it’s honest filmmaking.

Next project: I still haven’t thought of a title — it works when you say it but not when you write it. It is kind of around the idea of an assegai, a spear, but I want to call it “Assagirl”. It revolves around the mythology and the concept of a witch who lives in Jo’burg Zoo and a Zulu girl who has to go and rescue a puppy.

The films will be shown until May 13. Website: multichoice.co.za

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