SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:
A group of woman filmmakers and creatives are trying to find a new way of working, not just in the industry, but also in terms of how problems are solved, in order to promote sustainable projects that use all their creative skills to make a difference in society.
Mycelium is a cooperative venture, legally constituted and formed by seven South African women working in film, production, design, media, television and research, which is aimed at shifting perspectives and regenerating the world. The founding members are Jemima Spring, Kia Johnson, Lara Taylor, Helena Kingwill, Natalie Nolte, Stef Swanepoel and Jacqueline van Meygaarden. They want to take storytelling to another level to produce communication for a sustainable world, while building an alternative media creation hub and becoming “a collaborative force for change.”
Mycelium’s core messaging is to “produce compelling content and experiences that shift people’s minds”, based on collaborative and participatory values.
“We aim to use the power of many, combined with our innate passion for the world around us and its balance – which needs to be realigned – through media, using it as a tool to create awareness and in essence ‘teach’ others how to get back to basics through sustainable living,” explained Kia Johnson, television presenter. “I have for the longest time needed a platform whereby I could spread the word of our current environmental crisis, through not only being a face on TV, but taking a more hands-on approach in order to show others what needs to be done to get to our ultimate goal, which is a balance in nature.”
They want to make films and tell stories and host events about social regeneration. They seek to help in telling the stories of people changing the world, so they will inspire change in others – all the while creating a better way of working.
These are lofty ideals, but founder Jemima Spring, filmmaker, is firmly of the belief that the world needs to change, and that those in the creative industries can lead the charge.
“My background is in film and broadcast television. I’ve been doing this for 25 years with a growing understand that things in the world are not okay as regards the environment and social cohesion. There must be a different way of doing things. In the stress of adulthood, we often forget our creative part and where the stories come from that can heal the world.
“Some of our industries have a very toxic culture and as a bunch of amazing women who all help each other and share resources, we are still at the mercy of big corporates and financial systems. We needed a structure to support ourselves, but with less hierarchy, training for young people and a collaborative, enterprising way of working.
“Our purpose is to change the narrative around how the world can be, using whatever means we can. Many of us are filmmakers, some are in music, there are writers and a puppeteer. We will grow and include more diversity, we may not always only be women, we are looking for people with the same headspace and who are really flexible,” said Spring.
Johnson said she hopes to create awareness and make a huge impact that changes the world for the better. “The industry is cut-throat and dominated by men. Through this co-op, I have already found the ‘sistahood’ most of us speak of achieving in our daily lives as women. This initiative and work environment shows us that this is possible and that because we are many versus one problem, we can overcome some of the obstacles we face through assisting each other.”
The power of the collective has astounded Taylor, filmmaker and anthropologist. “The potential of seven vs one has launched me into new avenues that I may never have discovered alone. The sharing of both challenges and ideas is hugely beneficial and the combining of skills to work together on a greater project, while still having the freedom to continue my personal projects, is the future of work.”
Taylor is busy exploring short film on mobile, producing web series and webisodes to create a positive environmental and social message. “I hope to use the increasing popularity of short film and documentaries to reach a wider audience. Mycelium, with the combined forces of strong and intelligent women, is giving me the support and reflection necessary to evolve.”
Along with another founding member, Natalie Nolte, Taylor is also running training in mobile video shooting and editing. Training and mentoring the next generation of young filmmakers forms an important part of Mycelium’s values.
“The collective want to produce film and aligned projects that create awareness and inspire people to change their habits,” reiterated Taylor. Spring recounted how she was inspired by the conversations on social media during Cape Town’s drought – how people quickly moved from panic over Day Zero and the city running out of water, to sharing their experiences with grey water systems, water-saving tips, compost toilets,and other innovative ways to deal with the crisis. These were necessary conversations that would not have taken place without an immediate crisis, but demonstrated the innate human condition to solve problems with creativity and innovation when challenged.
Johnson says that Mycelium’s members hope to be a part of something bigger than themselves. “We want to create a unity among us as filmmakers. There are many limitations that we face on a daily basis, in the freelancer lifestyle that we lead, or the difficulty with access to doors opening for various projects. Through this collab, I have already seen how our ‘many versus one’ attitude has shifted our focus and enabled us to have better access to so many different aspects of the film industry.”
Spring concluded: “It is very clear to me that we have to create a better future. I’ve been on this path for a while. A new story is rising and we all need to step up and play a role, create a healthy and safe space for each other and future generations. It is early days, but I’m very positive and hopeful.”