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Gezzy S Sibisi

Gezzy S Sibisi
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Gezzy S. Sibisi is a senior journalist at Screen Africa. She is experienced in print, broadcast and digital media. Her portfolio of work includes working as a lifestyle reporter as well as contributing business and education articles to The Times, Sowetan, and Daily Dispatch publications. As a freelancer, she has worked on content development for corporate newsletters, community newspapers, blogs and educational websites.

Tales of truth from the women of Marikana

The Marikana aftermath gave birth to numerous narratives that seek to capture the events which took place on 16 August 2012, resulting in the deaths of 34 striking mineworkers. The scarred community still cries until this day as those who are left behind, including women and children, continue to voice their concerns as seen in the documentary, Strike a Rock.

Strike a Rock filmmaker and feminist, Aliki Saragas was moved by the plight of these women and their sheer determination to tell the world their version of events through their own pain, struggles and unwavering search for justice. “I have always been inspired by the intersection of ‘reality’, gender and cinema, and making the mundane extraordinary and the personal political,” said Saragas.

The Waverly-based storyteller found her roots in the film industry as a BA Dramatic Arts Honours student at the University of Witwatersrand when she and other film students from Finland, Ghana and South Africa participated in the North South Exchange programme and created several documentaries – it is here that Saragas’ love for the documentary genre was born.

She later decided to do her Masters in Documentary Arts at the University of Cape Town, which resulted in her first account on the Marikana saga titled Mama Marikana. This later became the basis of her current work and first documentary film, Strike a Rock.

“The film has been a three year journey, as it started as my MA thesis film in 2014. During my MA I interned for acclaimed documentary director Simon Wood. He shared with me an article by Camalita Naicker that described this women’s group in Marikana, Sikhala Sonke and how they had developed a play during the first year commemoration of the massacre, to tell their version of the event; a narrative that was either not known or/and had been forgotten.”

Saragas went to meet these women and as a filmmaker she wanted to add to their discourse. Initially she was just interested in capturing the play by the women’s group, however after meeting with them, she found out that there was more depth to their stories and it was up to her to unearth and expand on what the women portrayed.

“I made a very clear choice that I wanted to create a very intimate film that highlighted and focused on telling the story through their voices from the inside, rather than through external voices that have already shaped the discourse of the space,” she said.

As Saragas began to spend more time with the women and their families, she noticed that the film ended up growing and expanding as the political landscape of Marikana (and the country) kept changing and as a result the lives of the women she was filming were also evolving.

‘We want houses, we want electricity, we want running water, a living wage, a government that listens to us’ – These are some of the chants of the women in the film, leading these striking voices are Primrose Sonti and Thumeka Magwangqana. These ladies are the stalwarts of their community in Nkaneng, an informal settlement that sprung up around the mine operated by Lonmin Plc.

“These two inspiring women formed a women’s organisation, Sikhala Sonke (We Cry Together), after their friend Paulina Masuhlo was killed by police. Over time we see them grow into different leaders in the search for social and economic justice,” explains Saragas.

The film was shot over three years with a variety of cameras being used. Saragas confirms that the film was however predominantly shot using a Canon 5D. “(This camera was) not an easy choice for documentary, due to the shallow depth of field, but I made the choice that I wanted that style in the film. It was the most cost effective way to capture that texture, intimacy and closeness that I wanted.”

With this being her first documentary, Saragas pays tribute to having an amazing team that supported and helped her through the journey. The film’s funders and supporters which include the National Film and Video Foundation, the Bertha Foundation, IDFA Bertha Fund, Afridocs, Good Pitch and Women Make Movies gave her the right support and necessary funding to make the film possible.

Saragas’ producers on Strike a Rock are Dr Liani Maasdorp and Anita Khanna of Uhuru Productions. Coincidentally, Uhuru Productions is known for its award-winning documentary, Miners Shot Down, which follows the tragic Marikana events from the commencement of the strike up until the miners were fatally wounded.

Saragas affirms that the story of the Marikana massacre has been widely publicised and reviewed globally, however she believes that there are still voices that have not yet been heard, “voices from the strong women leaders and the community that surrounds the mine which had seemingly been erased from the narrative.”

Saragas says as a filmmaker, she intends on elevating these narratives, and this has led to the founding of her own production company, Elafos Productions.

“I started Elafos in 2015 as I began to make my film into a feature length documentary…I wanted to create a production company that focuses on women’s stories. Recognising the need to emphasise complex and strong roles for women in the South African industry, as I grow the company, I want Elafos to champion these narratives in front and behind the lens,” she asserted.

Strike a Rock made its world premiere as the opening film of the 19th Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival which will runs from 1 to 11 June 2017. This year the festival will showcase 70 films, with 32 of these shortlisted stories coming from South Africa.

”I’m so excited that the world premiere of Strike a Rock will be on home soil at Encounters Film Festival, a festival that I have attended for years and years. It was very important to all of us to premier in South Africa, and to be featured as the opening night film to launch the festival will provide us with the platform to spotlight the injustice the women continue fighting against.”

After the Encounters festival, the film will be making its international debut in Britain at the Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival where it has been selected in the Documentary/Expose strand.

Apart from the limelight that the film is hoping to attain through these festivals, Saragas also plans to run a local campaign that will see the film being aired in schools and mining communities. “In partnership with Sikhala Sonke, we will facilitate community screenings using a mobile cinema with workshops detailing communities’ rights and possible recourse. Starting from Marikana, we aim to reach mining communities across all major mining areas in South Africa.”

Saragas is a filmmaker and an activist at heart, shining a spotlight on the antagonist while also seeking visible solutions to her protagonist’s problem. “This is a very current story that highlights how there has been no accountability for the significant legal obligations owed to the community surrounding the mine. It was very important for me to show these incredible female leaders exercising their agency in the face of great injustice, not only for the massacre itself but for everything that preceded and followed it. They force us to recognise that the story of Marikana is not yet over,” she concludes.

Key Crew:

Director: Aliki Saragas
Producer: Dr. Liani Maasdorp
Producer: Anita Khanna
Offline Editor: Khalid Shamis –
Online and Grade: Yoav Dagan (TiNt Post Production)
Sound Design: Guy Sheer (Rechord Post)

Africa’s first medical thriller – Bypass

A healthy human body has the capacity to save up to seven lives. According to the Organ Donor Foundation (ODF) the heart, liver and pancreas can save three lives, while the kidneys and lungs can help up to four people.

However in a country like South Africa where sadly less than 2 per cent of the population are organ donors; the long waiting period for a possible donor – who must also be a perfect match – can be a helpless race against time left for one’s survival. So as a parent would you bypass the system to save your child’s life?

The movie, Bypass brings awareness to the underworld of organ trafficking, which preys on the desperation of the wealthy whilst also taking advantage of the vulnerable and poor.

The film prides itself on being the first African medical thriller. Bypass draws inspiration from international films like Panic Room and Disturbia, as well as from Participant Media who are known for creating films with social impact. “I have always been inspired by Participant Media and their approach to using films as a medium for social change and in Bypass you see how desperation drives a mother to turn to the illegal organ trade in order to save the life of her son,” explains director Shane Vermooten.

The storyline follows the plight of cardiac surgeon, Dr. Lisa Cooper, who works at St. Lukes hospital operating and saving the lives of her patients. However when her only son is in need of a liver transplant, the chances of him receiving a donor seem to be stacked against him. An opportunity to save her son then presents itself but the doctor has to bypass ethical medical codes that she has held onto throughout her career. “A decision that leads her right into the heart of conspiracy, danger and an international organ trafficking syndicate,” shares Vermooten.

The movie takes place in two distinctive worlds; the first place being at St. Lukes, which was shot in the abandoned building which once used to house Woodstock Hospital. Veermooten confirms that while Woodstock was perfect for most hospital scenes, the theatre scenes were impractical and the team was stuck until they found an Intercare Day Hospital which was willing to let them shoot at their theatres. Lieschen Koch of Lieko Studios was the film’s make-up and prosthetics artist who did incredibly realistic and genuine work in showing the bloody and gory images of a real-life medical situation. “She did an incredible job with bringing the medical scenes to life which allowed us to shoot beautiful close-ups of the operation as opposed to having to hide what we were seeing and fake it with camera angles,” Vermooten remarks.

At the hospital scene we meet the top cardiac surgeon, Dr. Cooper played by actress Natalie Becker, who happens to be the only female surgeon and a proud mother. “In the world of Bypass, our main protagonist needed to be the top cardiac surgeon in the country and so we saw this as a great opportunity to challenge the stereotypes of what a top surgeon in South Africa can look like in 2017. So we were very intentional when we made the decision to cast that role as a woman of colour,” Vermooten says.

Dr. Cooper is accompanied by a leading cast of male doctors and well-known actors including Haken Ke-Kazim (Dr. Chris Moanda), Dean Lotz (Dr. Wright), and Greg Kriek (Martin Fisher) as well as a young boy who appears to be a new face to the big screen, nine-year-old Joel Brown (Sam Cooper). “When working with Joel I was very intentional to never give him the full story, so every day on set we would create the story together, and that helped him give an authentic performance,” Vermooten says.

Joel plays the sickly son to Dr. Cooper, his mother then confides in one of her colleagues, Dr. Moanda, who offers her hope in the illegal organ trade market of East Africa.

Dr. Cooper heads to East Africa and leads us to the second part of the film, in a dingy and dark part of Jalloh, where the doctor finds herself out of her depth. “I wanted it to look more like a dungeon and less like a standard prison, we filmed at the old Rhodes Memorial Zoo which is on the side of Table Mountain and so it was a big challenge to bring in everything we needed but the team pulled it off beautifully and it takes the film to another level,” he said.

Vermooten expands: “Each of these worlds came with their own very specific stylistic choices. The first act was shot on heads and legs, to enhance the stability and control Lisa (Dr. Cooper) has. From the start of act two we ditched the legs and spent the rest of the film with the easy rig and steadicam to show the instability and insecurity Lisa felt in the unfamiliar world she entered. Our colour palette was also filled with a lot of medical blues and greens which we pulled through both worlds in the wardrobe, production design and grade. The only time red was used was when blood was in the scene.”

The film was shot in just 24 days using the Sony FS7. “We choose the FS7 because it allowed us to shoot internal 4K and its light-weight and versatility allowed us to move fast often having to shoot 35 to 40 set ups per day,” says Vermooten.

As with any thriller movie, the use of sound design was quite selective and instrumental in giving the viewer the cold chill down their spine. “Sound design plays a huge role in any thriller and one of my favourite parts of post-production is sound design. In Bypass we were meticulous with the sound design and it definitely heightens the tension and is one of the most impactful elements in the movie,” he says.

Other work on post-production was handled by Chris van der Burgh who did the offline edit at Media Village Productions, while Matthys Pretorius did the grading at Refinery Cape Town. The final mix was done by Nic Turton at Triplane.

Bypass had its international break at the Cannes Film Festival last year as part of the NFVF’s film catalogue where Vemooten also got to sign with an international sales agent. The film was also screened at the Marche Du Film at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

The film then had a local release in early May with sold out screenings across the country. While Vermooten hopes that more viewers get to watch and enjoy his movie, he also intends on imparting knowledge and creating change, which is why he decided to partner with ODF. “As we were looking into the issue of organ trafficking we realised that part of the solution was having more legal organs available because with a sufficient supply people would not be forced to turn to the black market. With this in mind we always knew that we wanted to add an action step so that people could respond to the movie,” he says.

Outside the screenings Vermooten had volunteers from ODF talking about the process of being a legal organ donor and encouraging South Africans to sign up and become donors, alternatively people could also log on to the film’s website and sign up there. The initiative has already seen a remarkable 40 per cent spike in organ donations. “We are very excited about this,” says Vermooten, adding that he hopes that the awareness campaign could reach not only the people watching his movie but also their families and friends.  – Gezzy S Sibisi

KEY CREW:

Executive Producer: Graham Vermooten
Producer/Writer: Diane Vermooten
Director / Writer: Shane Vermooten
Producer/Writer: Bianca Schmitz
Line Producer: Cherise Vermeulen
Production Assistant: Louise Schoemann
Director of Photography: Jorrie vd Walt
1st Assistant Director: Jacobus Kriel
Editor: Chris van der Burgh
Sound Designer: Nic Turton
Online Editor: Dani Nel

Another day in the Banana Republic 

“If you are a filmmaker you will find a way to make a piece of content, movie or music video and work with whatever you’ve got and just do it.” – Josh Hawks

The great legacy of the ANC that was hugely responsible for the liberation of this country is now being overshadowed by corruption and instability – these are the makings of a banana republic and the notion behind Freshlyground’s new song and music video titled, Banana Republic.

The controversial video has enjoyed over 150 000 views across various platforms since its release on Freedom Day on 27 April 2017. “We thought that Freedom Day is rich with symbolism and appropriate to help make a statement and provoke the question: Look from where we’ve come and look where we are now,” proclaims Freshlyground’s band member and director, Josh Hawks.

It’s hard to imagine that the video took just three hours to shoot, with Hawks as the director by default, when he suggested a music video after the song was enthusiastically received by audiences at a Joburg Day event. “We are also in the process of releasing an album and want to start generating some curiosity,” Hawks added.

The band had unanimously decided on the Sunday evening to make the video the very next day at their usual rehearsal space, which happens to be the garage of one of the band memebers. Hawks confirms that he had no brief but a simple concept in his mind triggered by the topical subjects projected from the song’s lyrics:

Emergency, Insecurity, No opportunity

It’s just another day in the Banana Republic

These are lyrics sung by lead vocalist, Zolani Mohale. “The idea, because we were shooting in a small room and not a great space, was to keep it simple. We shot in black and white and used a strobe light for drama and a sense of emergency. A combination of the strobe and the two kinos was all we used; we also did a few performances with some of the students who came to help also being pulled in to some of the scenes.”

Hawks emphasises that the video was shot on a shoestring budget with friends and a few students helping out. “I literally called Jean Marc Rolando the night before, an experienced camera operator and friend, and asked if he had the time to pop over and shoot a quick video. He arrived with another camera operator, Ricardo Koopman who brought the equipment and a few students from CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology),” says Hawks.

As part of the scene set up the team printed pictures of luminaries from books that Hawks had and pasted them on the wall. They also sourced images of the Guptas, the VOC and The Dutch East India Company. “These images swim on the walls with the luminaries, an acknowledgement that corruption began in 1652 but that now the struggle has been sold with the party being captured by greed and money,” Hawks explains. There are also flashes of historical images in the video which Hawks says were meant to be an acknowledgement that all South Africans are shareholders in the burden of our history, more especially the white people who benefited from the apartheid system.

Ubuntu Films was kind enough to give them permission to use footage from their documentary film, The Giant is Falling – directed by Rehad Desai. “The film is current and has seminal footage of flashpoints of the political discourse we have been experiencing including Khwezi and the rape allegations ten years ago; Marikana; Fees Must Fall as well as images of inequality which of course is systematic and structural because of our history and a legacy of white domination. We wanted footage that would add authenticity to the question we were posing.”

According to Hawks the term Banana Republic or more specifically ‘banana republic politics’ is essentially about elites with access using public money as a source of private monopoly capital. “It is not only in South Africa where this kleptocracy and corruption happens thus Trump, Putin and Erdogan and the US dollar make it into the video too. There are flashes too of dictators with the question being; are we sleepwalking to less freedoms and a dictatorship?“

The cameras and equipment used for the shoot included the Sony PMW 300, Red Heads and 4’ Kino Flo’s. After the shoot, the band footage was converted to Apple ProRes 422 LT for cutting. “The video was cut using a combination of band footage and sourced political footage. Colour grading was kept predominantly black and white, but a subtle red tint was applied to the political footage for contrast,” says Hawks.

While keeping to the rhythm of the song, Hawks says that the cuts were made to alternate between quarter note, eighth note, sixteenth note and triplet patterns. “The cuts were generally made quite fast for dramatic effect; however cuts slow down on the verses in order to leave space for climatic build-up towards choruses and the ending.”

The film was edited by Vega student, Guillame De Villiers through his small company Madam Speaker, with the final edit being exported as HD720ph.264 for easy online upload.

The video can be viewed on the Freshlyground website and on Youtube.

“The point I think for young creatives is that if you have an idea don’t wait for money or better gear, if you are a filmmaker you will find a way to make a piece of content, movie or music video and work with whatever you’ve got and just do it. Work within your limitations and let your creativity push you,” advises Hawks.

KEY CREW:

Director: Josh Hawks
DOP: Jean Marc Rolando
2nd Camera: Ricardo Koopman from CPUT Film School
Editor: Guillame De Villiers from Madamspeaker.tv

The road to inner peace runs from Cairo to Jozi release of the movie, The Mummy

With the business of everyday life, we all need some timeout to reconnect with our inner peace. While others can afford a little getaway to unwind, sometimes all you need is a good soulful meal to get you there. Chicken Licken’s new advert takes viewers on an expedition from Cairo to Jozi, in a quest to find inner peace.

Joe Public is an advertising agency that has proven that the sky is the limit; their previous ad set out to space with the young afronaut, Tshabalala, who was taken by the then Chicken Licken tagline, ‘When the craving has got you, It’s got you’ as he eats his colleague’s Feed My Craving meals.

This was Joe Public’s first project for the Chicken Licken brand and it won over the late CEO and founder of Chicken Licken, George Sombonos.

This time around, the agency’s new spot for the famous chicken brand takes viewers on an Egyptian/African tour, with the ad expanding to a digital game format and a movie collaboration.

“We have admired the work of Chicken Licken for many years as it is one of South Africa’s brands that truly do stand out commercials. We are very grateful that we have the opportunity to do high calibre brand communication for such a legendary and trusting client. Since getting them as a client, we have a ‘restless’ hunger to keep doing great work,” says Roanna Williams, the executive creative director of Joe Public.

Their brief was to create a campaign for Chicken Licken’s, Rock My Soul product that’s packed with ‘soul fire.’

The agency had their entire creative department involved in the brainstorming and conceptual process. “The process included many late nights of brainstorming over Rock My Soul meals; a number of lengthy reviews; a shortlist of three (concepts) and then the winner,” explains Williams. The winning concept video earned over 1 000 views on YouTube in 2.5 days of being online.

The storyline begins near the Great Pyramid of Giza with archaeologist, Archie. His excavations near the pyramids accidently lead to him falling into a pyramid. A curious Archie opens a tomb and wakens an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, the great Hor-Aha, who has been sleeping peacefully for thousands of years.

A frantic Hor-Aha threatens to curse him, but Archie pleads with him and assures the pharaoh that he knows where he can find his inner peace again. The two then set off on a sightseeing journey that takes them into Africa until they reach Johannesburg. Here, Archie takes the great Hor-Aha into a Chicken Licken store and offers him the new Rock My Soul 3 Straight meal. The pharaoh takes his first bite, we then see him returning to his tomb, and taking the rest of his meal with him. His restless soul is finally satisfied.

Dean Blumberg of production company Bouffant directed the ad: “It was bold, epic and a little crazy. The agencies had a strong vision for the commercial but were incredibly collaborative in allowing us to bring ideas and our own stamp to the film,” he comments.

The main characters – Archie, a 30-something South African archeologist and Hor-Aha, the 6 000 year old Egyptian pharaoh – were both cast in South Africa while the commercial was shot in Egypt as well as South Africa.

“We worked hard to create a very filmic feel that was a hybrid of 80’s style adventure films and some classic 50’s technicolour nostalgia,” tells Blumberg.

Wardrobe designer, Moira Meyer worked on the styling of the characters, which Blumberg describes as “authentic costumes with the most incredible textures to film,” which he says made his job as a director much easier.

Archie is described as the quirky cool and smart dude (a Licken guy) – an explorer type – so Meyer decided to style him like Harrison Ford from the Raiders of the Lost Ark, while the pharaoh’s costume took inspiration from the film Tutankhamun.

In the spot, the journey to find inner peace starts in the desert and then heads to the busy marketplace of Cairo where the pharaoh feels unsettled by the people there and turns a vendor into a frog.

In Sudan they purchase a car from a shocked dealer who sees the pharaoh protruding from the roof top in an attempt to ride the car as one would a horse. The pair then set off on a dusty trail where they pass Kenya, catching a glimpse of the Kenyan tribal men. A stop in Tanzania sees the two enjoying themselves on a beach where a much happier Hor-Aha asks Archie if they have found inner peace yet, to which Archie responds that they have not.

They finally land in Johannesburg where Hor-Aha is uncomfortable with an airport search. Archie then takes the pharaoh to a Chicken Licken eatery. The pharaoh is seen taking great delight in the taste of his meal, but then suddenly he disappears, leaving bystanders and Archie amazed at the dust left behind.

As Archie tries to grab the Pharaoh’s meal that is also left behind, it disappears into thin air, only to be seen with Hor-Aha in the next scene, back in his tomb in Egypt.

“Balancing humour and adventure; it’s a strange tone and as the filming advanced, the story just grew. We could have made a ten minute short film; however you always have to keep your eye on what the original intention of the story is and not get lost in what the potential exotic locations can offer,” Blumberg says.

Blumberg had the challenge of working with two production companies. In Egypt, he worked with a team from Egypt Productions and was lucky to find an African fixer named Durand Le Sueur to get them to all the sights needed in the brief.

“We shot pyramids, the ancient streets of Cairo, the desert and the Egyptian souks in Egypt. Tanzania and the Sudan were shot near Langebaan, Kilimanjaro was shot in the Cradle of Humankind, and the tomb was shot on set in Johannesburg.”

An array of equipment was used to shoot the spot which included the Arri Alexa Mini and the Panavision G-series Anamorphic Lenses. “The Alexa is a great nimble camera with incredible colour space. The lenses are some of the best in the world and the anamorphic expression has been my preference since I began directing. They carry a real film weight and show facial expression beautifully,” shares Blumberg.

The ad was completed with final touches done by Fresh VFX, Stuart Botha and Bradley Glossop. “They helped me bring some of the locations which we could not travel to, to us. Their work on Kilimanjaro and Dar es Salaam was fantastic,” Blumberg remarks.

Once the big project was out of the way, the Joe Public Connect team stepped in to create a digital online experience. In the game the pharaoh’s rest will be disturbed yet again but this time by people visiting his tomb on the Rock My Soul website (www.rockmysoul.co.za).

On the website, the player is tasked with returning the pharaoh back to his eternal slumber by matching hieroglyphic symbols to play out various scenes which may or may not help the pharaoh in his quest to find true inner peace in the form of the Rock My Soul 3 meal once again.

The online game goes live on 9 June 2017, together with a two-minute cinema commercial which will capitalise on the local

TECH CHECK

EQUIPMENT:

  • Camera: The Arri Alexa Mini
  • Lens: Panavision G-series Anamorphic Lenses

“The lenses are some of the best in the world and the anamorphic expression has been my preference since I began directing.” – Blumberg

“The Alexa is a great nimble camera with incredible colour space…” – Blumberg

KEY CREW:

Director: Dean Blumberg
Producer: Chanelle Critchfield
DOP:  Adam Bentel
DIT:  Owen Bruce
Art Director: Christopher Bass
Wardrobe Designer/Stylist: Moira Meyer
Make-up: Debra Nicoll
Focus: John Papas (JHB/Cairo) / Justin McGillivray (CPT)
AD: Sheila van Zyl (JHB) / Coenie van Dyk (CPT/Cairo)
Key Grip: WD du Plessis (Jhb/Cairo) / Elrick Davids (CPT)
Gaffer: Andre Beumer (JHB) / Grant Forbes (CPT)

SenseVirtual offers VR solutions for African needs

From physical human interaction to virtual reality (VR), the evolution of communication has gone full circle.

Marketing today requires as much personal attention as it did centuries ago, however with the advancement of new technologies, being able to create immersive experiences like riding on a spacecraft or house-hunting from your office is just a VR headset away.

Tyrone Rubin is a filmmaker and the founder of SenseVirtual; a company that offers VR solutions for South Africa’s educational and marketing needs.“VR is a completely new medium that allows a person to be placed into any experience imaginable. The user is able to interact with this world, walk around and perform any action they dream of,” explains Rubin.

The use of VR technologies has through the years helped marketers better reach their consumers. A recent example of this is SenseVirtual’s work with the Adidas brand to promote football to scholars. The concept involved filming Orlando Pirates soccer players during their training schedules and football games. This footage was then converted to a VR 360 degree format and then shown to schoolkids on a bus using VR headsets. “The kids felt completely immersed with their favourite footballers and the game,” shares Rubin.

In another school focussed project, the team used VR experiences to teach children the basics of business, maths and economics. Through the use of VR devices, they saw the huge impact and interest that VR technology creates for the advancement of learning. “When a student is completely immersed in a VR experience the retention rate of the student is extremely high,” Rubin adds.

Rubin says that he has always been a fan of VR, however it was in 2014 when he tried the first Oculus prototype that he truly believed that there would be a market for the technology in South Africa: “I started seeing that there were actual real world problems that I could solve using this technology. I also noted that various industries found the need to create VR experiences either to enhance their products or to be used in an entertaining manner.”

This prompted him to start his own VR company, SenseVirtual and later team up with Richard Ramsbottom, who had already been developing VR experiences, and is now the company’s CTO and co-founder.

The team has since then developed content and VR experiences for a number of brands in sports, education, real estate and retail. Their VR equipment includes the HTC Vive, an Oculus Rift, along with a powerful PC to run the VR experience, however for mobile phone experiences, they use the Samsung Gear VR.

One of the company’s most notable VR applications is a property viewing app for local real estate companies. The app allows property agents to relieve themselves of the stress of driving to various locations to view different properties with clients. The use of mobile VR headsets will allow agents to immerse clients inside more properties than ever before with a 360-degree VR view of any property.

SenseVirtual is also currently working on an in-store VR retail experience that will give stores the opportunity to offer their shoppers immersive experiences with their products. Internationally, VR retail experiences are a huge trend, especially in the fashion world. The Tommy Hilfiger brand recently launched a VR experience in their stores for shoppers to witness the designer’s autumn collection debut from the runway.

Talking about SenseVirtual’s VR retail experience, Rubin says: “These deeply engaging VR booths will draw customers into stores to experience first of its kind technology. Customers will be able to explore an infinite amount of products and product information; they will be able to learn about the brand and products in an entertaining and engaging manner, and will be able to interact with products in a magnificent dream-like environment.”

VR technology has also been welcomed in bringing far-fetched dreams closer to reality for the user, while also helping users share their experience with a group. For Universal Healthcare, SenseVirtual created an activation whereby they had six people at a time entering into a spaceship and all simultaneously experiencing an entertaining space adventure.

In the UK, a similar experience is used by medical institutions to train surgeons from all over the world as if they are in the same room. “The aim for any VR experience is something called presence. Presence is the feeling in VR where the person completely believes they are in the virtual world in every possible sense.”

While the South African public have shown great enthusiasm in the future of VR technology, Africa still has to gain more knowledge and produce more VR developers for the industry to grow. “In 2014 there were only a handful of us in South Africa building VR solutions and experiences. Since then the number of developers in the VR space locally continues to grow. These VR developers and VR storytellers are continually creating experiences in so many varied industries. The highlights have been witnessing and playing a part of this continual day to day growth,” confirms Rubin.

Rubin is also the founder of Virtual Reality South Africa (VRSA) which aims to seek more awareness for VR industries in order to grow the local skill set of VR developers and VR filmmakers.

Rubin and his team have hosted workshops in specialised learning institutions for filmmakers and developers interested in exploring the VR field. “There are two types of content one can create with VR: a 360-degree video and CG (Computer Graphics). With AFDA we created workshops to teach students and industry professionals how to create 360-degree video content from start to finish. We also worked together with Friends of Design to teach students how to transfer their game concepts into VR,” shares Rubin.

Some of these students have ended up collaborating or working on SenseVirtual’s events division, EventsVirtual. “More recently we have created VR experiences at events for Sanlam, Google, Barclays, MiWay and Dell,” says Rubin.

In May 2017, SenseVirtual hosted an eLearning conference where Rubin led a discussion on why VR is playing a major role in the sphere of education and training. “The talk highlighted the key values that VR adds in the world of education and training such as immersion, engagement, presence, interactivity, safety, affordability and more,” he shares.

The SenseVirtual team is now planning South Africa’s first Virtual Reality Hackathon, which will make it the second VR hackathon in Africa after last year’s event hosted in Lagos, Nigeria by Imisi 3D.

“We feel that SA is leading the way forward in Africa when it comes to using VR in the widest arrays of industries. The key difference between Africa and the rest of the world is that in places like America, Europe and Asia, the VR market is currently a lot larger industry. I am confident we will get there in time,” Rubin concluded.

A love letter to Chatsworth

Keeping Up with the Kandasamys was shot on the RED Epic Dragon.”

“Authencity is key in storytelling. We wanted to ensure that the flavours of Chatsworth were captured. This was a unique opportunity to put Chatsworth on the big screen and we had to be true to its vibrant spirit.” – director Jayan Moodley

The vibrant lifestyle, authentic mannerisms and colourful textures of one of the oldest South African Indian communities takes centre stage in the film, Keeping Up with the Kandasamys – a witty play on the much-publicised Keeping up with the Kardashians reality series in which the famous family’s dirty laundry seems to keep enthralled viewers glued to their small screens weekly. Much like the Kardashians, the Kandasamys have captured South African audiences on the big screen so much so that the film garnered over R1.6 million in its opening weekend at the Ster-Kinekor box office. Furthermore, the movie has recently been reported to have made over R14.7 million in its seventh week on circuit.

Keeping Up with the Kandasamys is a story about friendship, family, space and identity, and most importantly about love and forgiveness. It centres around two women, Jennifer Kandasamy (Jailoshini Naidoo) and Shanti Naidoo (Maeshni Naicker) who have an immense hatred for each other. Their suspicion turns to shock and then horror as they face the realisation that their children have fallen in love. So they team up with the ‘mother-of-all-plans’ to break them up and instead find each other in the process,” explains director Jayan Moodley.

The film is centred on these two lead actresses who both previously have been residents of Chatsworth. Much to their delight, the film pays homage to this historic and lively town which rarely gets recognised as a film location of choice. With that in mind the director sees to it that the hidden gems of Chatsworth are captured while also giving the viewer a feel of the warm city of Durban and its outskirts. “Authencity is key in storytelling. We wanted to ensure that the flavours of Chatsworth were captured. This was a unique opportunity to put Chatsworth on the big screen and we had to be true to its vibrant spirit,” Moodley says.

Casting for the film took place primarily in Durban over four days before moving to Johannesburg for a further two days of auditions. The young couple Prishen Naidoo (Madhushan Singh) and Jodi Kandasamy (Mishqah Parthiephal) beautifully bring their modern redemption of the romantic classic, Romeo and Juliet into character, while their disapproving mothers leave no scene unscathed as they give life to the ‘mother-in-law from hell’ phenomenon.

Unlike Moodley’s rather dramatic debut into the film scene with White Gold in 2010, she decided to have some fun in her second take, with co-writer Rory Booth helping her bring the laughing stitches to this well-played slapstick comedy drama. “The story provides a window into one of South Africa’s vibrant and colourful sub-cultures. I truly believe that real nation-building can take place when there is not just an acceptance of each other but an understanding of the different cultures in South Africa; what better medium than that of film, and what better genre than that of comedy to draw in the audiences and achieve this objective,” Moodley remarks.

Filming took place in July and August over a five-week period with African Lotus Productions and the late Junaid Ahmed’s production company. The film also takes time to honour the esteemed producer, as he was very much involved in the production of the film and worked alongside co-producer Helena Spring to ensure that Moodley’s vision became a reality.

During production, the crew and cast noted that they received the most amazing hospitality from residents of the area. Thereafter the film crew decided to return the favour by visiting Chatsworth school Wingen Heights Secondary and giving the staff and learners an opportunity to take pictures with the cast, who also signed autographs with their endearing fans as a token of their appreciation.

Keeping Up with the Kandasamys was shot on the RED Epic Dragon; a decision which Moodley says was made after a consultative meeting between her, the producers and DOP Justus de Jager. For Moodley, the most important aspect to get right regarding the look and feel of the film was to make the viewer feel as though they were present within an Indian South African home. “The brief was to capture colour, vibrancy and a sense of liveliness that is prevalent. We stuck to our colour palette of cream and ‘kungum’ and kept the shots clean and focused on telling the story,” she comments.

“Overall the film has really struck a chord,” affirms Moodley who attributes the success of the film to its simplicity and authencity. “Every person I speak to tells me about a character they can relate to or about how true that ‘one scene’ was.”

It is no surprise that the film’s reach has stretched over to more than its close-knit Chatsworth community and even further than its cosmopolitan city of Durban. Beneath all the snotty and hilarious punchlines; a powerful underlying message resonates with everyone regardless of ethnicity, geographic standing and social standard. “The message of the film is really about forgiveness and the heavy burden we carry within ourselves when we hold onto some sort of grudge. It’s about family, happiness and about a people that band together as a community with such resilience. I think African audiences are in search of comedy and different stories, and it will certainly resonate with both African and international audiences,” Moodley concludes.

Keeping Up with the Kandasamys was produced in association with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), the KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission (KZNFC), Durban Film Office (DFO) and M-Net.

KEY CREW:

Director: Jayan Moodley
Producers: Helena Spring and Junaid Ahmed
Associate producers: Suda Sing and Gill Pearson
DOP: Justus de Jager
Editor: Nicholas Costaras

Local trilogy video creates creative buzz internationally

“We shot the entire project on the Phantom Flex. I love the distinctive look of the camera and playing around with the high-speed function of the camera and extreme slow motion and real-time photography.” – Kyle Lewis

The evolution of a man from the time they discover their purpose, to seeing a visual exhibition being captured through the lens of a camera is an amazing craft. Award-winning hip hop artist Nasty C gave this challenge to Kyle Lewis and the results were an Apple Music chart-topping video which gained global creative recognition.

“The concept comes from personal stories and experiences that Nasty C explained to me about his personal growth and life experiences. The narrative has a past, present and future and that illustrates Nasty C growing up, figuring things out and ultimately coming to fruition in his career,” says director Kyle Lewis.

The 14-minute music video features three songs from his Bad Hair Extensions album namely, Don’t Do It, Phases and Good Girls and Snapchat Hoes. The video’s unofficial title is Veliswa, and is named after the rapper’s late mother. However in keeping with the album title, it was later named Bad Hair.

Lewis and his Arcade Content team previously worked with Nasty C during the shooting of Anatii and Cassper Nyovest’s music video for the song Jump, which the rapper featured on. It was at that shoot that they spoke about collaborating on something totally unique.

“Audiences love to be challenged, and I find the South African audience to be an extremely intelligent and deep-thinking crowd. There are so many subtle, nuanced messages and statements scattered throughout and I wanted it to be something that people watched a few times to decipher, but at the same time create their own meaning,” says Lewis.

Lewis remembers that in that brief meeting the rapper spoke about featuring multiple singles but giving him and his team free reign on the narrative and look. “For a filmmaker, it’s amazing to have that kind of trust from an artist.”

Kyle and his team, which included Pierre De Villiers on camera duties, Kaley Meyer as the stylist and Bianca Prinsloo taking over the art direction; worked on conceptualising the brief and finding complementary tools needed in the making of the film. “Life experiences are never the same, so I wanted to illustrate different tones of emotions individually. I wanted dark, surrealistic elements to be juxtaposed with hyper-realism and grit,” explains Lewis.

Furthermore Lewis wanted to treat each of the three tracks as its own individual film, but still be able to make them co-exist as a 14-minute long music video without losing the viewer. The use of bridges in between the songs provide a smooth transition, which Lewis credits to approaching the filmmaking process as a ‘trilogy’ or ‘anthology’ instead of just a conventional narrative. “Each film has its own style of cinematography and framing. With the help of my incredible DOP, Pierre De Villiers, we were able to innovate with how we lit and composed shots. For example, in the final video, Phases, we locked off the camera and did every set up in the same framing, creating an interesting editing technique,” Lewis comments.

De Villiers shot the video on the Phantom Flex with 2+3 Post handling the edit and grade, helmed by long-time collaborator Stephen Du Plessis. “I love the distinctive look of the camera and playing around with the high-speed function and extreme slow motion and real-time photography,” comments Lewis on the camera choice. “I wanted each shot to look like a Renaissance painting and to be as poignant, and there’s something beautiful and eerie about what that camera can capture.”

While he admits that budget constraints are always a factor in producing a sterling film, Lewis and his team are always up for an opportunity to create an unfiltered and artistically creative product that will be worthwhile for the masses. The team however tried to push as many boundaries as they could through the use of creative special effects with the help of SFX artist, Blake Prinsloo from Static Black Media. “The most exciting aspect is the face mapping we did of Nasty C. It gave us the perfect impression of his face, which gave us the opportunity to create artistic, statue-like elements,” Lewis remarks.

The music video has since been featured internationally in France, Germany, United Kingdom and the US, with Apple Music describing it as “epic” and “audacious”.

When Lewis was asked if he ever thought that his films would be so highly-received, he responded: “I think South African music and South African aesthetics are some of the most bold and creative in the world. I was just a vehicle for its success; the true impact comes from the people, fashion and collaboration in this piece. I believe we are as a country the next big innovators and it’s finally getting noticed abroad, which is exciting.”

Key Crew:

Director: Kyle Lewis
Producer: William Nicholson
DOP: Pierre De Villiers
Styling and make-up: Kaley Meyer
Art director: Bianca Prinsloo
Editor: Stephen du Plesis
VFX: Blake Prinsloo
Additional music: Tapiwa Musvosvi
DiT and Camera technician: Karl Schmidt

Meet DIFF’s new manager Chipo Zhou

“I want to build on the past success of DIFF and bring on board some new collaboration that will see the festival showcase more African productions to a larger international audience.” – Chipo Zhou

Turning the spotlight on women making great strides within the film industry, the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) recently announced the appointment of Chipo Zhou as the festival’s new manager.

“After such a vigorous search, we are grateful that we finally found a rounded candidate of her calibre, with whom the festival is bound to have a refreshed face. We welcome Chipo to the Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) team and we are confident that she will steer the festival to a better future,” said director of the CCA, David wa Maahlamela in a press statement.

It’s no secret that DIFF has, in the previous year, made headlines within the local film industry for the wrong reasons as much publicised internal disputes led to the resignation of the 2016 DIFF manager, Sarah Dawson. Despite this, Zimbabwean-born Zhou has boldly accepted her role in the hot seat and is confident in overseeing her vision which includes giving a voice to women within the film industry.

“I started acting in a local soapie and this inevitably led to my involvement with International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF) and the Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe (Wofz) which exposed me to a different kind of woman, a voiceless woman. It was in that moment that I decided that no woman should ever be without a voice and if I can help contribute to that in any way, then I would certainly give it my best,” says Zhou.

Zhou has fortunately had a great headstart in being moulded by powerful voices and striving leaders throughout her life. Her father, who is a teacher of English literature, imparted the narrative seed in her through African folklores and books by sterling female authors such as Tsitsi Dangarembga, Yvonne Vera and Jane Austen. “His love for storytelling inspired my love for literature, which eventually steered me to filmmaking,” she said.

Other positive female influences include her mother’s business acumen as well as her love for education and current affairs which inspired Zhou’s love for film research. Her headmistress from school Miss Dumbuchena, who later held the role of Ambassador for Zimbabwe, played a pivotal role in young Zhou’s school career through her valued leadership and encouragement.

Zhou holds a B.A Honours Motion Picture Medium degree (cum laude) from AFDA, and is currently completing her MFA Motion Picture Medium. She has been passionately involved in woman advocacy through film festivals around the world, including being the assistant festival director of IIFF and steering the gender wheel in her home country as a board member of Wofz for five years.

“A lot has been done to bring women to the fore and that can be seen by the work that organisations like SWIFT and WIFT have done to significantly  increase the number of women-led films over the years. As with any system born from traditions that have been cultivated over centuries, the battle is far from being accomplished. What is unique about the film industry is that the platform allows for a global audience and any voice we give to the struggle of women empowerment in any industry is a strong voice. The importance of our role cannot be undermined and I’m glad to say that this year DIFF has a special focus on women, and some of the stories coming out of this are very powerful and will hopefully inspire and motivate others to action,” said Zhou.

Zhou has also made positive leaps in order to diversify her knowledge by thriving in other complementary roles such as coordinating the South African Communication Association (SACOMM) conference as well as being a media consultant for DERT-SA, an NGO servicing issues of human rights and education within Southern Africa.

“Working with academics who write papers and very often review the work of filmmakers, was an important learning curve for me, in placing what their role is within the industry, something I found very often overlooked and taken for granted. Operating within the human rights community gives you access to the human face of some stories that are made as well as potential audiences for these stories that may not have previously been exposed to the film industry. It has unquestionably expanded my world view and has contributed immensely to my current vision for the future of DIFF,” she says.

DIFF has been a long-standing annual calendar event in the African film industry and this year’s edition is scheduled to take place from 13 to 23 July at venues in and around Durban. Zhou and her team believe that they have a solid team and support system to see to it that the festival becomes a phenomenal experience and a great success.

“I am a fresh face with a new, creative and industrious young team working with me. That in itself is quite significant in that we are a clean slate. This year will be ‘DIFFerent’, we would like to reinvent what it is to be a film festival within our African context and so it will be interesting to see what this process will bring about over the next few DIFF editions. The advantage is that DIFF is already on the international calendar, the challenge  we are enthralled to be tackling is to see it grow beyond being the biggest in Africa and see talent that is coming through our programmes attain international recognition and advancement.”

DIFF is organised by the University of KwaZulu Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts in partnership with the Durban Film Office, eThekwini Municipality, National Film and Video Foundation, KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission and other valued funders and partners.

Zhou’s appointment will also be announced to the international fraternity as she attends the 70th Festival de Cannes in Paris, France next month. This will be her first international appearance promoting the DIFF brand and she is excited to utilise the opportunity to elevate the image of the festival and enrich her vision.

“I want to build on the past success of DIFF and bring on board some new collaboration that will see the festival showcase more African productions to a larger international audience. We are fortunate to be placed in an environment with so much potential for further development and as a female in the industry, I hope to contribute to creating a future, in which it will no longer be necessary to point out that I am a woman,” Zhou concluded.

BBC Worldwide’s Africa focus

The BBC World Service has through the years manifested itself as one of the leading news corporations in TV, radio and digital. Moreover in 1998 it became the first international broadcaster to establish a news production bureau in Africa by relocating its London office to Nairobi, Kenya, as a strategic move to reinforce itself on the African market. Since then, the news service has enjoyed more audiences in Africa than anywhere else in the world.

So when BBC Worldwide – an extension of BBC’s other channels besides its news service – established an office in Johannesburg, in the hopes of bringing more diverse content and channels to the South African audience; it also had plans to blossom across the African continent at large.

“In September 2015, BBC Worldwide introduced three new global brands to South Africa: BBC First, BBC Brit and BBC Earth alongside the already established BBC Lifestyle and CBeebies channels. South Africa became the first country to host all five BBC global brands following the successful European debuts of BBC Brit and BBC Earth in Poland, the Nordics, Hungary, Romania and Turkey,’ comments BBC Worldwide Africa’s vice-president and general manager, Joel Churcher.

BBC First features gripping British drama in all its forms; BBC Brit offers entertaining reality sitcoms and talk shows; while BBC Earth gives viewers insight to the greatest human discoveries as well as the magnificent wonders of the universe.

Churcher confirmed that all the channels are “brimming with premium and award-winning content.’ In addition BBC First is said to be doing exceptionally well and has been ranked as the number one channel for international drama on DStv based on the average time spent by viewers glued to their screen.

“The content hosted on these channels is designed to reach a diverse pan-African audience, reflecting a wide range of voices, ages and cultures. Our African viewers clearly have a deep affection for BBC programming, and as a leading content distributor, we will continue to deliver high quality, premium content to our channels for many years to come,’ says Churcher.

Churcher confirmed how the move to Johannesburg has also led the broadcaster to partner with a local production company, Rapid Blue and as a result BBC Worldwide has since commissioned several programmes which were either specifically filmed in South Africa or across the African continent.

BBC viewers have come to enjoy localised formats of the broadcaster’s best-selling shows which include The Great South African Bake Off, Come Dine With Me and Strictly Come Dancing.

Besides these adaptations, the country has also gained favour as a film location of choice not only based on its scenic views but also because of the great value of shooting here. BBC Brit has seen increased ratings after Top Gear series 23 showcased some breathtaking African landscapes in Durban and Lesotho. BBC First’s Call the Midwife drama series has also made a point of using actors from South Africa when it shot its Christmas episode on the outskirts of Cape Town, while BBC Earth’s show Planet Earth II also featured the African continent. African countries that have also enjoyed the spotlight in other BBC programmes include Ethiopia, Namibia, Kenya, Zambia and Botswana.

While the brands are doing very well in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa through MultiChoice’s digital satellite TV service, DStv; Churcher highlighted how the growth in the television sales business has seen other brands reaching further into the African continent such as the CBeebies brand, which was launched as a 24-hour channel on the Zuku TV platform in East Africa last year.

There has also been recent news of other new buyers from Africa including NET2 TV, a free-to-air channel in Ghana and the Econet Media Group, which recently established a new pay-TV platform.

“The African continent has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. To ensure that BBC Worldwide taps into its growing audience base, it is important that our channels host a well-executed balance of international and local content, which feature local voices and faces,’ Churcher says.

The brands success in making these great executions were awarded with South African wins at the 2016 Loeries for shows on BBC Brit and BBC Lifestyle as well as another award at the Pendoring Advertising Awards for a Zulu radio advert made for BBC Brit. The team also bagged gold at the PromaxBDA Africa Awards for their drama and reality promos.

“We are extremely proud of our accolades and look forward to producing more award-winning campaigns that capture the hearts and enthusiasm of our audiences on the African continent,’ comments Churcher.

During the recent MipTV market in Cannes, BBC Worldwide announced that its reach in Africa has led to the licensing of over 400 hours of programming across Africa in just the first part of 2017.

Shows that have been reported to be most popular to the South African market include, War and Peace, Doctor Who and Luther on BBC First while BBC Brit’s motoring show Top Gear has been the biggest show ever since the channels launched.

“We’re very excited by the rise in local African programming especially the popular shows coming out of Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa, and are focused on localising our popular formats to appeal to a wider audience across not just South Africa but the entire continent,’ concludes Churcher.

– Gezzy S Sibisi

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