When a number of impactful and pertinent documentaries didn’t make it onto the South African cinema circuit, the SA Eco Film Festival was born. It began as the Cape Town Eco Film Festival in 2014, soon became the South African Eco Film Festival in 2015, launched a Directors Showcase in 2016, and now in 2017 they are introducing a Talent Campus. Besides dynamic growth the festival continues to bring to light enlightening international and local documentaries to raise the level of communal consciousness around global issues.
“We are now in our fourth year and it seems to grow quite organically each year,” explains founder and programme director of the SA Eco Film Festival, Dougie Dudgeon. “Of course our sponsors help, their consistent support over the years allows us to plan ahead. We are particularly proud that with Ballo, Sustainable.co.za, Reliance and Hemporium we have sponsors who walk the walk when it comes to green, eco-living, sustainable business and ethical trading. This is a key part of what the festival aims to do,” he says. Not only does the festival screen films that highlight some of the most important issues that face the world today; including pollution, exploitation, over population, deforestation, and climate change, but they aim to offer solutions. “Our films and our supporters all trade in solutions, often on an individual level, with scale-able, do-able things. We try to remain positive. We try to entertain and inform at the same time,” says Dudgeon.
Furthermore the festival will now be training. Dudgeon explains that the SA Eco Film Festival’s inaugural Talent Campus is held over the seven days of screenings. From 23 to 30 March, nine young potential film makers and story tellers have the chance to attend all the screenings, to interact with the audiences there, and to attend dedicated workshops and mentoring sessions.
At the workshop sessions, Talent Campus participants will develop concepts for short films that express their own experiences of environmental issues. They will then pitch these film concepts to a panel. The three pitches selected will then recruit a three person team from the remaining six participants. Each team of three will be guided, supported and mentored to produce three shorts which will be filmed and produced for inclusion in next year’s festival. “We are grateful to Reel Lives and Shack Dwellers International’s Know Your City initiative for helping us find our film makers of tomorrow. The Talent Campus is supported by Panalux and Reliance,” says Dudgeon.
When designing the festival programme, Dudgeon says they look for influential films that are influencing the international festival circuit. He says they are also open for submissions directly, or via Film Freeway. “South African films are always invited to submit free of charge and we do have a modest fee for international films,” he explains.
The selection process includes consultations with experts in the fields discussed, and sponsor suggestions. Dudgeon says they watch all the films and ultimately choose the ones that have moved them in some way; made them think, laugh or cry.
The festival has one award: the Silver Tree award. “Since its inception the SA Eco Film Festival has solicited audience votes to determine each year’s Audience Choice Award,” explains Dudgeon. “The laurels presented to the winning film are based on the Silver Tree. This plant is particularly suitable to represent our festival as it is an endangered species endemic to a small area of the Cape Peninsula. Classified as Rare it is currently threatened by urban expansion, alien plant invasion and habitat fragmentation.”
Audiences are invited to score films out of a maximum of five, and once averages for all films are calculated the winner is announced on the festivals website and social media pages. In previous years the award has been won by Bringing It Home (The Hemp movie), Cowspiracy and LandFill Harmonic.
Attending this year’s festival are two directors whose films have a South African link.
Mattia Trabucchi is an Italian independent documentary filmmaker and director of Kayabike. He was in SA working on an environmental research project at the University of Stellenbosch, when cycling took him to Kayamandi, there a programme that uses bikes to empower youth and improve their environment caught his eye. The resulting film screens at the festival where Trabucchi talks about his experiences in SA. Trabucchi says “I am on a constant search for truth. I am particularly interested in exploring environmental and social justice issues, and my experience in Kayamandi gave me just that opportunity.”
Jay Mac, director of What Is Real – The Story Of Jivamukti Yoga, is the co-owner of AIR Yoga in Cape Town, a Jivamukti yoga teacher, a vegan chef and the creative director of his agency, Great Scott. What Is Real is his first feature length documentary, where he was both director and producer. “I gave up being a creative director to become a full-time yoga teacher, but found myself drawn to both. And then the opportunity to make this film came along. That’s the irony and that’s the charm of the yoga practice we call life.” In addition to attracting outside producers to aid in the making of the film, Mac also successfully crowdfunded part of the budget, something he plans to do again for his next film project.
Other African films at the festival include: The Valuable Waste from Nigeria, about waste management problems but a clean and healthy environment seems a possibility through a sustainable development in West Africa. Cyclologic from Sweden and Uganda, about Kampala by bike, and the challenges and dream to have a cycling lane in the city.
“They all are standout films,” says Dudgeon. “For me this year The Age Of Consequences stands out for its purpose and intent, Can You Dig This for its uplifting message, The Chocolate Case as living proof that true ethical business is possible, Seed: The Untold Story for its hope and inspiration and Sea Of Life is a great film. I’m also delighted to have Kayabike in the line-up as it raises social issues right in our back yard, and of course What Is Real a truly inspiring South African made film about personal change, and after all this year’s festival theme is #ChangeIsHere.”
So it is, and proof is in the remarkable national and international films being screened in SA through the dedicated team at While You Were Sleeping.