The Big Fish School of Digital Filmmaking will, as of July 2017, relocate all its training from Johannesburg to Cape Town’s Green Point campus. This is after the school was established in Johannesburg in 2007.
Funded by the European Union (EU), 150 students attending the school have been selected to be a part of a 13-month Citizen Journalist course, whereby laptops and mobile phones are given to each student to film stories in their communities.
Assisting in accelerating the school successes, Big Fish founder and CEO, Melanie Chait, explains how the EU-funded training has dramatically transformed Big Fish’s teaching methodology, as each student is now equipped with their own set of tools to edit and do research. Further to this, the quality cellphones have provided the students with quality cameras to shoot stories and learn storytelling techniques.
“Part of our success is that we don’t only train for the job, but allow students to develop their confidence, self-esteem as well as problem-solving abilities. Central to our methodology is to teach different approaches to interpret the world, through focussing on social justice issues. South Africa is sitting on a social time bomb and unless we assist the youth in finding ways to navigate their futures, our gini coefficient will not improve,” comments Chait.
The Ford Foundation has recognised the award-winning film school as an exemplar for best practice for post-secondary training, possessing one of the highest employment rates of training institutions.
Big Fish’s dedication to youth employment is aided by the inexorable development of digital technology, which constantly increases the need for content, thereby creating increased opportunities for youth employment. A most recent example of this is Rand Merchant Bank commissioning Big fish to create videos on the arts and environment for use on social media. Fourteen of these films will be screened at the 20th Encounters International Documentary Film Festival showcasing at the Labia Theatre in Cape Town on 9 June and were also screened at the Bioscope in Maboneng, Johannesburg on 3 June.
In 2016, the Big Fish feature documentary film Walking in my Shoes was screened at Encounters Film Festival. Focussing on the daily domestic lives of rural school children, the film depicted the daily trek to school. Highlighting the harsh climates, early hours of departure, distances walked and obstacles endured by these children – who were expected to be on time and write the same exams as those who had been driven daily. The film won best mid-length documentary at the 13th Montreal Black International Film Festival in September 2017. One of the key characters, Siphilele Thusini, is now studying at Big Fish.
Since its inception, Big Fish has successfully assisted disadvantaged youth gain access to tertiary education by offering bursaries to selected candidates through the help and support of sponsors and benefactors. The National Skills Fund is currently funding 125 students to complete a National Certificate in Film and TV production. Other funders include Old Mutual, eTV, Department of Arts and Culture, MICT Seta and Bertha Foundation.