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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.

Behind the scenes on the intercontinental music video Let Me Live

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: The song Let Me Live is a collaborative project between UK’s Rudimental and Anne-Marie, U.S. musical trio Major Lazer, and Nigerian rapper Mr Eazi. The supporting music video is a blend of street culture, innovative fashion and South African dance.

France-based, South African-born photographer and director, Chris Saunders is the creative talent behind the intercontinental music video. The Johannesburg-born and bred filmmaker is passionate about using film and photography as a tool to understand youth, dance and music subculture, with a large part of his focus on the Pantsula dance culture in Johannesburg.

“I think you always have barriers in a city like Johannesburg, and photography and film are great ways to be able to work while exploring and trying to understand the people and the place better. This has always been the case with my relationship with Johannesburg. I do love the city but especially the people from South Africa and their immense cultures,” he says.

Saunders recently started working with a US-based production company, Believe Media. It was executive producer Jannie Mcinnes who gave Saunders the script for the music video and helped him through the conceptual process. A brief was then given to him by the artists involved and record label Asylum Universal.

“In the original brief the band wanted to create the feeling of an international carnival or festival where the video lives seamlessly within a global landscape. This is why we shot between Ridley road in London, a very multicultural market street and downtown Johannesburg where we incorporated a mixture of dance subcultures. This was my way of tackling their request and at the same time producing something that resonated with me personally,” says Saunders.

Production commenced in June 2018, with one day dedicated to London and another day in Johannesburg. As a result of the number of artists featured in the video, and their availability between touring, the project took six months to complete.

“I wanted to achieve a vivid, lively video that crossed between London and Johannesburg fluidly telling an almost seamless story. The video shows a globalised world with people from multiple cultures living in all places. I also wanted to create a South African carnival experience mixing GQOM culture from Durban, Pantsula dance from Johannesburg, and the world music feel of the musicians from London, in one tremendous and loud visual experience,” describes Saunders.

The Let Me Live video begins in Rudimental’s homeland in Dalston, East London with eye-catching scenes at the colourful Ridley road market. For the Johannesburg-leg Saunders chose more neutral settings in downtown Johannesburg, under the M2 bridge flyover with the artists and dancers bringing all the action.

“I worked with one DOP, Alex Jamin, who I had made a music video with previously; he was an important link between maintaining the look with different crews and light between London and Johannesburg. The process was extremely collaborative, and I am by nature this type of director, I like to deliver a brief to my crew and see what they come back with naturally, trying hard to incorporate new ideas into the mix as the process develops.”

Thrilling shots of a fierce female stunt driver are shown in some scenes, while more than forty dancers including Pantsula, GQOM and vogue performers are seen in vibrant costumes showing off their skills alongside various musicians. “On the Johannesburg side, all of our dancers had personal costumes designed in collaboration between fashion designer/stylist Neo Serati and art director/artist Tamzyn Botha. I wanted to try to create a less conventional wardrobe for the dancers, taking the idea of their cultures and projecting them into an intercontinental more modern fashion,” shares Saunders.

For the London shoot, Saunders was assisted by producer Shabana Mansuri, and for the South African-leg of the shoot Ola! Films executive producer Olivia Leitch and producer Maurice Dingli were on board. About 30 per cent of the music video was produced in London, while the remaining 70 per cent was shot in South Africa.

“We shot on the Arri Alexa mini for its lightweight, high-quality aspects; this is because we shot all of the shots on the steadicam/Arri Trinity. We also shot on a combination of older lenses in London, if I’m not mistaken Alex chose the same lenses that the Godfather was shot on for that side and similar lenses in South Africa.”

For the London shoot, Mark McPadden was the steadicam operator, while Joe Oosthuizen completed the Johannesburg steadicam shots.

The video was shot mostly with controlled incidental light, but when moving into the evening scenes, artificial lighting was used.

Saunders notes proudly that he incorporated a shot from his iPhone X in one of the last scenes: “After we wrapped there was a tremendous uproar and celebration, this made the cut, and I was amazed at what you could do with a cellphone!”

Editing was done by Paul O’Reilly from Stitch, while grading was done by Arthur Paux in Paris.

Only one scene required CGI as part of a legal agreement with Barcadi. “We were initially supposed to have a bottle in one of our shots, but in the end, we replaced a billboard behind the taxi shot in Mr Eazi’s tracking scene with an artificial billboard with supplied graphics,” explains Saunders.

Apart from the music video, Saunders commissioned director Batandwa Alperstein aka TAKEZITO, to create a behind-the-scenes documentary about the process of creating the music video with the aim of encouraging cultural collaboration and respect for creative expression across the globe.

TECH CHECK

EQUIPMENT:

  • Camera: Arri Alexa Mini

“We shot on the Arri Alexa mini for its lightweight, high-quality aspects; this is because we shot all of the shots on the steadi-cam/Arri Trinity.”

KEY CREW:

Executive producers: Jannie Mcinnes and Olivia Leitch

Director: Chris Saunders

Producers: Shabana Mansuri, Maurice Dingli, Allison Swank

DOP: Alexandre Jamin

Editor: Paul O’Reilly

From graphic novel to animated series 

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: YouNeek Studios is home to eclectic superhero comics, graphic novels and animation. The US-based company has become increasingly popular since 2012 and is known for its vibrant comic strips that bring historically-inspired Nigerian stories to life.

Founder of YouNeek Studios, Roye Okupe’s first book, E.X.O – The Legend of Wale Williams, a superhero story about redemption set in a futuristic (2025) Lagos, Nigeria, is based on his experience growing up in Nigeria interwoven with superhero sci-fi concepts.

The Nigerian-born writer comments, “My culture is a huge part of why I write these stories. And I also believe it is what sets us apart as a company. Our books are culturally authentic and you can feel it on every page. One of the main reasons why, is because the majority of the people that work on the books (sometimes all the people) are born and raised on the continent. The talent is immense in Nigeria (and Africa as a whole) and one of our goals here at YouNeek Studios is to shed light on them.”

The company’s latest graphic novel, Malika: Warrior Queen, is focused on bringing strong, black female representation into comic roles and is inspired by the women in Okupe’s life including his mother, wife and sisters. Malika is also inspired by Queen Anima of Zazzau – a real warrior queen who lived in the 15th century; the novel also features elements from West African history including the Songhay Empire, Oyo Empire, Timbuktu and the Benin Empire.

Malika was published in August 2017 and won the Best Graphic Novel at the Uncanny Nerd Awards 2017. After much success, Malika is now on the road to being developed into an animated series as part of a collaborative project between YouNeek Studios and the Nigerian multimedia production house, Anthill Studios.

“As a company, we just felt like it was time to make a bold move. We’ve been lucky to have some success in the comic book industry both in Africa and the diaspora because of amazing fans who constantly show us support. Because of that, we felt we could carry that same momentum into animation. But as you know, animation is very hard and expensive to produce especially when you want to do it at a certain quality. This is where we hope a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter can help us,” shares Okupe.

The pair launched their crowdfunding campaign in late July, with the ambition to reach US$15 000 and make a 7-minute pilot. Background and insight on the Malika project, including a two-minute teaser reel created by Anthill Studios, are available on the Kickstarter page. There is also commentary videos from different artists who have worked on the project who wish to see the project reach its next level of success.

Within just a few weeks, the project received immense media coverage across African entertainment websites and earned US$20 000 within two weeks, surpassing their initial goal.

I knew we would surpass it,” enthused founder and creative director of Anthill Studios, Niyi Akinmolayan. “Malika is such a beautiful project, you either see the potential, or you don’t. There is no in-between. My team and I, and the YouNeek Studios team, are more than grateful to everyone who backed us on this project.”

However, the project’s crowdfunding journey has not stopped yet. Backers can still contribute and help the Malika project to reach further heights.

“The funds we have raised is proof that there is an audience filled with expectations of witnessing visual representations of Nigerian and African characters – an audience looking forward to their stories being told on the big screen. Raising 20 000 dollars on Kickstarter is also proof that people believe it can be achieved,” said Akinmolayan.

YouNeek Studios has written and will be directing the 7-minute 3D-animated episode, while Anthill Studios will be handling production duties.

“We will make an announcement as soon as we commence production so that we are able to put a date and timeline to it. And enable our backers to be carried along the entire process,” informed Akinmolayan.

Okupe also plans to pitch to investors and networks who can turn the project into a full-length TV series or movie.

“Please continue to support African creative people and companies. Only through this support can we truly grow this industry and push it to realise its full potential. The future for African comics, animation and gaming is very bright,” Okupe concluded.

 

Submit your film to multiple festivals at once with Festivilia

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SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: The process of submitting a film to a festival can prove to be an expensive, time-consuming and dubious task for filmmakers. Selecting the right festival for a film is in itself a tricky and lengthy task which requires sieving through hundreds of festivals and platforms.

With this in mind, Nigerian filmmakers and techpreneurs, Daniel Ugbang and Tobi Ogunwande, have developed a one-of-a-kind platform that enables filmmakers to complete just one form and have their film automatically submitted to over 500 curated film festivals.

“The sole vision of Festivilia is to be the best option for effective festival distribution for filmmakers all over the world. We want to save filmmakers the stress of blindly and manually submitting their films to festivals one by one which can be a very time-wasting and expensive activity. We are giving filmmakers the opportunity to channel their time into more creative activities rather than spend it filling numerous submission forms,” Ogunwande explains.

The idea for Festivilia was inspired by Ogunwande’s encounter with an Egyptian filmmaker, Ramy El Gabry, in 2016 while he was still running his first start-up Hubrif – an online video platform dedicated to streaming short films made by Africans all over the world.

Unfortunately, the video platform has now collapsed, but while it was still active Ogunwande stumbled upon Gabry’s short film, From Inside, and was really moved by the storyline. He reached out to the filmmaker to get the film featured on Hubrif and it became the most watched film on the platform.

He further extended a hand to help Gabry submit the film to a few film festivals. To both their surprise the film was selected by almost all the film festivals that they had submitted it to, including the 2017 Realtime International Film Festival in Lagos, Nigeria where the two finally met.

From Inside went on to win the Best African Short Film Award at the festival, and an impressed Gabry graciously told Ogunwande that what he did for him was a great service that many filmmakers could gladly pay for.

Ogunwande and his partner, Ugbang, then ran the idea of starting a film distribution platform by their fellow filmmakers and tech enthusiasts. After much research the team decided to test the concept with a Private Beta launch in early 2017.

He expands: “We, first of all, had to curate film festivals from all over the world and that was serious work. We were gathering these festivals from all major submission platforms including filmfreeway, shortfilmdepot, filmfestivallife, withoutabox and the growing number of film festivals that have their own dedicated submission portal.” “We spent months gathering these festivals and then sieving through the right ones for Festivilia. Then we began manually testing the idea with a few selected films. We had to be sure this was worth pursuing so if our hypothesis didn’t work during our Private Beta, then there was no need for building a platform for it.”

The Private Beta was a great success, which then led to the Public Beta launch of the platform in June 2018.

Currently, the platform has over 500 carefully selected film festivals in their database, the majority of them based in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

“The response has been overwhelming!” Ogunwande enthuses. “Since we launched to the public, we have had more subscribers than we can handle right now and so we have to intensify our in-house selection process.”

“Right now, we still curate these films to make sure they meet our in-house criteria while we continue to develop our algorithm. Soon, the whole process will be automated and done entirely online,” he added.

To apply, filmmakers need to visit the Festivilia website, pick their preferred plan and download the universal submission form to complete and email back.

Festivilia will then get back to them within 48 hours with a list of the curated festivals that match their film. The list is also uploaded to the cloud so that filmmakers can always monitor the progress of their submission.

“We build a festival strategy for your film, handle the submission and distribution of your film to these festivals and also source for distribution deals on behalf of our clients. We take a 10 per cent commission on distribution deals sealed,” shares Ogunwande.

Through the years Ogunwande has managed to build fruitful relationships with most of the film festivals in the Festivilia database. However, this doesn’t mean he is given preferential treatment, stressed Ogunwande. “Over time, we have been able to submit films that are of very high-quality in terms of story and production aesthetics as well as matching with the festival’s theme. It only means that our reputation has been enhanced as they trust that we only submit films credible and worthy enough to be selected,” he assures.

Festivilia has enjoyed a seven per cent growth rate since its public launch and would like to achieve a 40 per cent growth rate by the end of the year. So far 60 per cent of the subscribers are filmmakers based in the USA and Canada, the remaining 40 per cent is shared between North Africa and the Middle East.

Diprente Films expands with new animation division, Diprente Junior

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: South Africa’s award-winning animation industry continues to grow with the launch of Diprente Films’ very own animation division, Diprente Junior. 

Isaac Mogajane is the managing director of Diprente Junior, the newly established animation division of the Johannesburg-based production company, Diprente Films.

“Animation has always been a medium that’s close to my heart, so as soon as I got the opportunity, I began researching the space and seeing how Diprente could become a meaningful player in the industry. Happily, the journey seems to be going well, and I’m very proud of the young talented development team we have built in the animation division,” Mogajane says.

Diprente Films is no stranger to the South African film and television production industry having first opened its doors in 2009; the award-winning company is well-known for its comedy sketches that include The Bantu Hour, Blits Patrollie, and Late Night News with Loyiso Gola which went on to be nominated for two International Emmy awards. In 2017 the company produced its first feature film, the well-received romantic-comedy Catching Feelings, starring co-founder of Diprente Films and popular South African comedian Kagiso Lediga. 

Diprente Films is now expanding its horizons with the official launch of its animation division, which took place in August of this year. Mogajane and his team, however, have been working on a few animation projects for some time now leading up to the launch – some which have recently been gaining much international recognition.

During the 2018 Annecy International Animated Film Festival and Market (MIFA) in France, Diprente pitched their new series at the Annecy animation series competition and won.

“The entire Annecy experience was extremely exciting for the whole team that travelled there with me including our technical art director, Judd Simantov and two of our concept artists, Terence Maluleke and Simanga Sibaya. I really wasn’t expecting to win and was just excited about the opportunity to showcase our project to some of the top broadcasters and sales companies in the world, so the win was a really special surprise for us,” Mogajane expressed.

Their winning project, Junk Pilots is a comedy action series aimed at kids between the ages of six and nine. Junk Pilots is described as a series about a future world where technology has mysteriously disappeared, and the people living in it are slowly rediscovering technology by digging up gadgets and machineries that are used today. 

The series kicks off with a female character, Za, who discovers an underground city of tech enthusiasts called Junk City. She then learns about the city’s biggest sporting event, the JunkBot Fight League, whereby participants build their own robots and compete for the title of The Best Junk Pilot.

The Department of Trade and Industry (dti) has praised Diprente for its worthy efforts in joining the South African animation industry and given the company support in creating job opportunities for young black, previously disadvantaged people under Diprente’s transformation and skills development programme. 

Minister Rob Davies, dti, comments: “It’s encouraging to see black animators entering the space which is still white dominated. The Department of Trade and Industry is committed in ensuring that transformation takes place in sectors that are regarded as specialised. This success builds on that achieved by fellow South African company Triggerfish Animation Studios who, over the last two years, have won the top prize for TV production at Annecy, and are in competition for the same prize this year with their work on the BBC1 Christmas special, Highway Rat.”

Ever since the company’s win at Annecy, the Diprente team has been in talks with several broadcasters, studios and investors regarding promoting and furthering the reach of the winning series globally.

Mogajane and his team have been working on another animation series titled Anansi. The Anansi project has also created more job opportunities. At present, the company is recruiting and accepting applications from interested individuals to be part of the project and the new division.

“For Anansi, we will be partnering with a Canadian studio for production. On our side, we will be handling scripting, storyboarding, concept art, modelling and rigging, while the Canadian studio will be running all the animation and lighting and rendering on their side,” shares Mogajane.

The Diprente Junior team will be utilising animation software including Storyboard Pro, ZBrush and Maya, as well as Unreal Engine which allows for real-time rendering. “The technology has been around in the gaming industry for many years, but has only recently been introduced into the long-form space, so I’m looking forward to getting closely acquainted with the engine and unlocking all the benefits that come with it,” Mogajane says.

Anansi was first developed in 2014 and is an action adventure series about a street kid who learns that he is connected to the African trickster and spider god, Anansi. This connection gives the boy the ability to manipulate and move his shadow and it isn’t long before he is plunged head first into the rich and secret world of African folklore, myths and legends.

In 2016, Mogajane signed a deal with a sales company from Denmark called Ink Brands, which has since pre-sold the series across multiple territories and helped finance the show. Furthermore, the series has secured broadcast deals in the UK, Turkey, Italy, Canada and France.

Ellen Pakkies’ tragedy comes to life on the big screen 

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SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: The impact that substance abuse and addiction has on the parents of a child ravaged by drugs is incomprehensible. Until it happens to you, one cannot fathom the pain of seeing the child you raised and love become a monster. Often these parents suffer abuse – verbal and physical – at the hands of their drug-addicted children.

Ellen Pakkies first made news headlines in 2007 when, after years of enduring abuse from her 20-year-old drug-addicted son, the loving mother strangled him to death.

“I remember while driving, I read a newspaper headline pasted on a roadside lamppost about a Cape Flats mother who killed her drug-addicted son. To be honest, I wasn’t shocked that something like this took place on the Flats since I grew up with addicts in my home, and so did many of my friends and family. It’s a very normal thing on the Flats to have a friend, or family member addicted or using drugs. At some point later I remember being very saddened by how desensitised I was, that the headline didn’t really shock me – that I just read it, shook my head and drove on,” comments director, Daryne Joshua.

In the years since the tragedy occurred, several books have been written and documentaries made – all giving their own analysis on what led a mother to take her own son’s life.

However for Joshua, it was his first meeting with Pakkies that inspired him to get to know the woman behind the headlines and document a true account of what really happened to this mother and her family.

“Ellen told me she had grown tired of repeatedly telling her story for the last decade – and that making a film would mean her story was out there for once and for all. And that it would be a relief to her and hopefully a cautionary tale for other parents who find themselves in a similar situation. From there on out she was completely collaborative and co-operative in the film’s development and refused any kind of financial compensation.”

Joshua is best-known for his award-winning debut film Noem My Skollie. To capture Pakkies’ story he worked alongside producers Schalk Burger and Paulo Areal.

The screenplay was written by Amy Jephta, with invaluable input from Ellen Pakkies herself, who not only opened her heart but her home too to the production crew. Pakkies’ family and close associates were also interviewed to enhance the authenticity of the film.

Joshua expands: “We met quite a few people who were involved and affected by what happened between Ellen and Abie, most notably – Adrian Samuels (Ellen’s lawyer), Odneal Pakkies (Ellen’s husband), Dr Martin Yodaiken (clinical psychologist), as well as the detective assigned to the case at the time, and a few of Abie’s friends. Most, if not all of them, thought it was an important story to tell – and that hopefully it would bring attention and change to the dire drug addiction situation on the Cape Flats.”

Told across two timelines, Ellen, Die Storie Van Ellen Pakkies (Ellen, The Ellen Pakkies Story) captures the story of Ellen and her stormy relationship with her 20-year-old drug-addict son, Abie Pakkies.

The film is the harrowing account of a woman put through the penal system, tried for murder and driven by an unflinching love for her son. It delves into the inner psyche of a family ravaged by drugs in one of the most dangerous communities in South Africa – an on-going problem that extends beyond the Cape Flats and highlights a systematic failure to protect the poorest of the poor.

Celebrated actress Jill Levenberg plays Ellen Pakkies, while actor Jarrid Geduld plays Abie Pakkies.

When Pakkies confesses to the murder of her son and gets arrested, advocate Adrian Samuels, played by Clint Brink, takes on the case and is determined to prove that the mother had no choice, after years of seeking help for her son.

“The film seems to spark a number of conversations and arguments. But the one I always encourage and want to be part of is how to improve social services for the victims of the drug scourge that’s decimating the Flats. One of the main themes of the film is that ‘The System failed Ellen Pakkies’. The presiding judge actually said that in the sentencing of Ellen Pakkies. So our goal was always to initiate a conversation around this topic,” says Joshua.

Ellen, Die Storie Van Ellen Pakkies was shot over five weeks beginning February 2017, on the Sony F55 camera, with Cooke Speed Panchro lenses.

About 90 per cent of the actual locations, where the tragedy took place, were used to shoot the film. These included the Pakkies’ home in Lavender Hill, the police station in Steenberg where she was held, Pollsmoor prison where she was also held for a few weeks, and the Wynberg Magistrate Court where her court case took place.

“Truth, naturalness and authenticity were things I was after. I wanted there to be a realness to the film. My mission as a filmmaker from the Cape Flats will always be to give those in the audience who’ve never set foot there a truthful experience. Secondly, for those currently living there and coming from there I’d like to hold a mirror up to their reality and make them feel that the film provides a sincere treatment of their environment and circumstances,” shares Joshua.

Sound was also utilised to ground the film in realism by using the environmental sound at Lavender Hill while keeping the score classical and subtle for most of the film.

The Moving Picture Billboard Company (TMPBC) handled production, while post-production duties were carried out by a variety of service providers including FIX Post Production (edit and colour grading), 5:25 Productions (score), TMPBC (sound design and mix), Two Tales Animation (VFX), and Digital Workshop in Johannesburg for digital delivery and completion.

Ellen, Die Storie Van Ellen Pakkies had its international premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival on 27 January 2018. The film has also screened at the 44th annual Seattle International Film Festival and has captivated audiences and movie critics across the globe.

At the recent annual kykNET Silwerskerm Festival the film received three prestigious awards. Jill Levenberg who plays the role of Ellen won Best Actress, while Jarrid Geduld who stars as the troubled Abie Pakkies was awarded Best Actor. Film writer, Amy Jephta also walked away with the Best Script Award.

The film has secured foreign sales and distribution deals and will begin its journey on various platforms in foreign territories in the coming months.

Ellen, Die Storie Van Ellen Pakkies is a kykNET Films production produced in association with M-Net, the DTI and The Moving Billboard Picture Company. The film, distributed by Ster-Kinekor Entertainment, will be released in cinemas nationwide on 7 September 2018.

TECK CHECK 

EQUIPMENT

  • Camera: Sony F55
  • Lenses: Cooke Speed Panchro

Ellen, Die Storie Van Ellen Pakkies was shot on the Sony F55 camera, using Cooke Speed Panchro lenses.

KEY CREW:

  • Director: Daryne Joshua
  • Producers: Paulo Areal and Schalk Burger
  • Writer: Amy Jephta
  • DOP: Zenn van Zyl
  • Editor: C.A. Van Aswegen
  • Sound: Jean Niemandt

Ambitions shines a light on displaced communities in SA 

The South African government has a history of displacing the inhabitants of poorer communities. Often these people are promised compensation and/or better housing for the trouble caused in uprooting their lives and families. However, more often than not, these prove to be false promises.

e-Extra recently introduced a new locally-produced show, exclusive to its channel, titled Ambitions – a captivating drama that tells the story of a recently displaced community through the eyes of its people and an inquisitive young journalist who seeks to expose the truth.

In the thrilling drama series, the stakes are high as threats turn to murder, and we realise our heroine is out of her depth. “Ambitions is a social awareness drama that speaks to the damage corruption does to our society. We wish to explore how corruption serves the individual at the expense of the community and how detrimental that can be to our newly formed democracy,” informs creative producer of the show, Roberta Durrant.

The series follows the journey of a young journalist and heroine, Qhawe Ledwaba, played by Zikhona Bali. Ledwaba is eager to kickstart her career as an investigative journalist when she discovers that the displaced community of Supingstad is living in squalor on the back of broken promises by their government.

Ledwaba learns that the community has yet to receive the housing and facilities promised to them as compensation for their removal from their informal settlement to make way for the building of a new clinic. The budding journalist sweeps into action, in an effort to find out who is involved, and get justice for the displaced community.

“On the surface, Qhawe espouses a devotion to the truth and to promoting justice and equality: ideals she was raised with by her struggle-activist mother, Lulama Ledwaba. But as we soon learn, her relationship with the truth, and her motivation as a journalist is a lot more complicated than that,” shares Durrant.

The television series stars the legendary Mary Twala, as Gogo Lizzie, and features several local talents that have established their careers on the small screen including Kagiso Modupe, Nokhuthula Ledwaba, Yonda Thomas, Luzuko Nteleko, Peter Se-Puma and Thulani Khubeka.

As Ledwaba and the Supingstad community members mobilise to confront the corrupt system and its tenderpreneurs, the wicked businessmen attempt to silence them with threats, manipulation and murder. However, defiant Ledwaba and the united Supingstad community are not such willing pushovers.

Through the drama series, Durrant aims to showcase the right of a free press in a democratic country, while paying tribute to the bravery of some members of our press who have put their lives at risk to tell the truth and uncover corruption. The show also highlights the far-reaching effects of corruption and state capture.

Ambitions was shot on the Sony F55 camera with prime lenses. Wanting to portray life as it truly is in these situations, Durrant and her team chose to shoot on location in and around Johannesburg; in the R59 informal settlement, Johannesburg CBD, as well as the northern suburbs. “We wanted to portray life as it truly is, without false distortions, stylisations of idealisations… We achieved this by applying different levels of grittiness to individual spaces, environments and characters. We captured the realism within this world of power, corruption, ambition and loyalty,” shares Durrant.

“The camera movement is both subtle and aggressive depending on each scene. The floating camera suggests an uneasiness and allows the camera to take on an investigative approach as we move through the story. There is energy in both the urban and rural worlds that is amplified by allowing the camera to be both objective and subjective as we move with characters through their spaces in this world. We broke the classic composition with a more uncomfortable and aggressive approach,” adds Durrant.

The entire series was shot from August 2017 to December 2017. Production and post-production duties were handled by Paw Paw Films.

Season one consists of 26 episodes, which run for 46 minutes each. Ambitions premiered on 1 July at 21h00 and airs every Sunday evening, with repeats on Wednesdays at 21h30.

“We hope the viewer is entertained, I think broadcasters are nervous of political thrillers not being appealing to the audience, but in fact, I think the opposite is true some of the best ground-breaking shows worldwide have been political thrillers. So we are pleased e.tv took a chance on this, and the show is doing well,” concludes Durrant.

TECH CHECK

EQUIPMENT:

  • Camera: Sony F55

Ambitions was shot on the Sony F55 camera

KEY CREW:

  • Producer: Roberta Durrant
  • Director: Catherine Stewart
  • DOP: Jonathan de La Querra

SWIFT highlights issues facing women in the film and TV industry

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: The Sisters Working in Film & Television (SWIFT) organisation was formed two years ago during the 2016 Durban International Film Festival (DIFF). The women-focussed initiative has since drawn attention to the severity of numerous issues affecting women in the film and television industry. Furthermore, SWIFT has fostered change for women in the industry by hosting informative sessions, developing targeted policies and inspiring women to stand up for themselves in this historically male-dominated industry.

Founder and chairperson of SWIFT, Sara Blecher expands: “I founded SWIFT because I felt a huge fury at the way women were being treated within the film and TV industry.”

Blecher formed the SWIFT advocacy group as an NPO, with other like-minded women within the industry, who offer their skills, resources and time to bring about change, solidarity and empowerment to its members and other women in the industry through various engagements and events.

Earlier this year SWIFT and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) sent their first all-female delegation of filmmakers from across South Africa to attend the Berlin International Film Festival in Germany.

In March the organisation launched an outreach campaign in partnership with the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and the Joburg Film Office called Girls Go to Cinema. The campaign, which aims to expose young women to a progressive female representation on and off the screen, includes a full cinema experience as well as a mentorship programme.

In its two years of existence, SWIFT has also managed to grow in strength and numbers, bringing about social and economic change, while continuing to be a key highlight each year during DIFF and the Durban FilmMart (DFM).

At DIFF 2018, SWIFT members dominated the film programme starting with the opening night film The Tokoloshe, which was produced by member Cati Weinek, and Mayfair, directed by Blecher herself.

Other films by SWIFT members included Farewell Ella Bella, written and directed by Lwazi Mvusi, produced by Tsholo Mashile with executive producers Carolyn Carew and Kamscilla Naidoo; director Tendaiishe Chitima’s Cook Off; Sisters of the Wilderness, directed by Karin Slater and produced by Ronit Shapiro; Rumba in the Jungle – The Return, produced by Dominique Jossie and directed by Yolanda Keabetswe Mogatusi.

At DIFF 2017, a survey was conducted on women in the film and television industries by Aliki Saragas and Nel Ncobogo, who head up the advocacy committee at SWIFT. The report that resulted from this survey revealed an industry in crisis when it was discovered that almost 78 per cent of women working in film and TV said that they had experienced discrimination at work because of their gender.

The survey further exposed a huge number of accounts of sexual harassment, discrimination and even rape on film sets. “The #ThatsNotOkay campaign came directly out of this research. We realised there was an urgent need to educate people about what sexual harassment was and to create awareness,” says Blecher. “It is similar to the #MeToo campaign in this way. Both help show how pervasive the problem is and also give women a platform to tell their own stories. To date, we have only made #ThatsNotOkay videos about the film industry, but we are hoping to expand the campaign into other industries as well,” Blecher adds.

The #ThatsNotOkay campaign features public service announcements which demonstrate what sexual harassment in the film industry looks like and how it affects women – all giving a visual reference to both victim and perpetrator.

“The six public service announcements are all based on real-life experiences of women in the industry and aims to help the industry to recognise what harassment is, and to reveal that those who speak up are not alone or imagining harassment. What is most important is for people to recognise that abusive behaviour is ‘NOT OK’ in any shape or form, and to make victims aware of the psycho-social and legal resources available to them via our membership,” says Zoe Ramushu, SWIFT’s ambassador.

Ramushu is also a legal consultant and helped draw up a SWIFT code of conduct. “Drafting the code of conduct has been a long but necessary process, and we’ve workshopped it with both government parastatals as well as broadcasters so that it sits right contractually for all the stakeholders who implement it. This is one of the many steps forward to making our industry free of sexual harassment, and I’m proud to have lent my skills to this,” says Ramushu.

Earlier this year the code was adopted by the IPO (Independent Producers Organisation), which means all of their members are bound by it. A memorandum of understanding has also been signed by the NFVF, the South African Guild of Actors (SAGA) and the KZN Film Commission (KZNFC).

As more and more women came forward with their experiences of sexual harassment, SWIFT realised that there needed to be more knowledge-sharing and discussions regarding the subject.

“The events vary, from sessions where women can share their experiences in a safe space and not only be affirmed but receive psycho-social support, all the way to one of our last sessions which involved short trainings and a Q&A with a power panel of lawyers from reputable law firms. The focus was the dos and don’ts and next legal steps to take when you’ve experienced sexual harassment. This spectrum is symbolic of what SWIFT aims to do for women; not only give emotional support but also facilitate practical solutions for women working in the industry,” concludes Ramushu.

By Gezzy S Sibisi

 

Stroomop celebrates the strength of women

When five women are tossed about by life’s rough waters and seemingly drowning in their own problems, a group therapy river rafting adventure meant to help them find inner healing goes horribly wrong and challenges them to either sink further into their predicaments or allow themselves to swim back up to reclaim their lives.

Stroomop is an inspiring, Afrikaans adventure film by actor and first-time director, Ivan Botha of 17Films. After branching out from his performance career to co-write and co-produce the films Pad Na Jou Hart and Vir Altyd with Danie Bester, Botha decided to take another leap in his career and direct his first film.

“We wanted to make a film where women don’t need a man to save them, where women are their own heroes. The timing cannot be more perfect as there is a conscious movement and energy celebrating women as we do with our story,” shares Botha.

Scheduled for nationwide cinema release on Women’s Day, 9 August 2018, Botha says the film is inspired by issues women deal with on a daily basis which he wants viewers to experience through the journey of these remarkable women.

“It’s a film about healing, life and death. Our characters embark on a life-changing adventure and truly discover their inner strength,” says Botha.

The strong female characters in this film are played by Donnalee Roberts, Simoné Nortmann, Chanelle de Jager, Carla Classen and Ilse Klink.

Roberts plays Lana, a surgeon with a tragic past. She lives for her work and is passionate about saving lives because she was unable to save her father’s life. However, when she loses this gift, her identity is challenged and she is forced to rediscover herself.

Vivian, played by Nortmann, is a data analyst living a lie. She has lost her passion for life and is searching for a new adventure.

Chanelle de Jager takes on the role of Adrie who has tons of potential but seems to have lost herself somewhere between marriage and motherhood. She is looking for a way to recharge her batteries and to take care of her own needs for a while.

Carla Classen plays Nixie, an introverted millennial hiding her pain behind false illusions in the form of filters and hashtags. She is very specific about who she spends time with and what she says. Nixie does not have a good relationship with her mother, and sometimes feels lost as she struggles to decide what she wants to do with her life.

Ilse Klink plays Diona and mother to Nixie. She is a strong-willed family lawyer who has spent years helping other families but has neglected her own in the process. She does not need other people to feel worthy and shows her love by presenting events and solutions, but that’s not what her daughter needs.

Overwhelmed by their realities, the women decide to go for group therapy. As part of their healing process, they are asked to take part in a river-rafting excursion on the Orange River. However, things don’t go as planned when their river guide, Guy, played by Armand Aucamp, is swept off the raft and the women are left to fend for themselves in the middle of nowhere.

The group is only expected back after two-days, so together the women have to fight for survival in the wild, while in retrospect conquer their own fears and pain to get back to their families.

Stroomop was not the easiest of films to choose as a debut – including wild animals and working on water allowed for enough challenges. It was an honour to be in the driving seat of this incredible story with an even more incredible crew and cast behind me,” says Botha.

Principal photogarapy commenced in February this year, and took place in Johannesburg and Onseepkans – a small settlement near Pofadder on the Orange River in Northern Cape.

“We went for a very personal, natural and realistic look and feel, driven and motivated by character. We wanted our audience to become a character on the adventure; our audience is always experiencing the journey with the characters,” Botha comments.

This, they did by shooting handheld and letting the characters determine the camera movement.

“Our characters move from a broken artificial world to the natural world; this motivated our lighting and sound designs. The elements were always motivated by our setting,” shares Botha.

Seasoned cinematographer Tom Marais is a long-time pal of Botha and the Director of Photography (DOP) on Stroomop. Botha recalls that it was ten years ago while on the set of Bakgat 1 when he was still acting, that Marais said that he would assist him when he finally pursued a career in directing.

Marais used the ARRI Amira to shoot the film: “We filmed on the ARRI – Amira, and we shot for scope. We made use of 5D on some of the wilder white-water scenes,” informs Botha.

Special effects were also used to enhance some scenes in the film which include the wild hyena and snake scenes as well as the great stunts on the white-water rafting scenes. Botha comments: “Although the actors did 99 per cent of their own stunts, we did have a few shots which required VFX. Luckily, we have teamed up with Two Tales Animation who have done some incredible work.”

With post-production, editing was handled by C.A. van Aswegan from Fix Post Productions, while Botha handled the online, post sound, grade and final mix at Refinery.

As part of the release of the film, some of the crew and cast of Stroomop will be hosting a Women’s Day event at Atterbury Theatre on 9 August.

The event aspires to make woman celebrate and embrace the challenges and adventures of womanhood and will include a session on self-discovery, forgiveness, acceptance and healing, as cast members Donnalee Roberts and Simone Nortmann share their life stories with the guests.

Stroomop is distributed locally by Ster-Kinekor Entertainment and will be screened exclusively at Ster-Kinekor cinemas.

“I hope moviegoers become characters and walk out feeling inspired, healed, having journeyed with these characters,” says Botha.

Stroomop was produced by 17 Films and The Film Factory SA, in cooperation with kykNET, the National Film and Video Foundation and the Department of Trade and Industry.

TECH CHECK

EQUIPMENT:

  • Camera: Arri Amira  Stroomop was shot on the Arri Amira.

KEY CREW:

  • Director: Ivan Botha
  • Producers: Donnalee Roberts, Ivan Botha, Danie Bester
  • Writers: Ivan Botha, Donnalee Roberts and Sean Robert Daniels
  • DOP: Tom Marais
  • Editor: C.A. van Aswegan
  • Sound: Basiami Segola and Charlotte Buys

Inside the making of Afrikaans drama, Onder Die Suiderkruis 

The life of an entrepreneur requires resilience, competitiveness and consistency. From owning a modest school tuck shop, to running a successful chain of varsity takeaways, to being a billionaire farmer and mine owner – Onder Die Suiderkruis explores the experience of being your own boss through the lens of three families.

“I wanted to explore the influence of parents, environment, school, history, fate, etc. on determining the personality of the child, and also what qualities do you need to tempt fate to become an entrepreneur and be your own boss,” comments writer and producer of the show, Johan van Jaarsveldt. While the show is not an educational programme, van Jaarsveldt says that valuable insight can be gleaned from the exchanges between characters.

Set in the 80s and 90s, the series boasts a talented local cast featuring Alyzzander Fourie, Anton Dekker, Michelle Burger, Christia Visser and Tinarie van Wyk-Loot. Casting was handled by van Jaarsveldt and director Elizabeth Archer. “In most cases, we agreed on whom we would like to use in the roles. In only two instances we could not get the original choice, due to unavailability of the actors. This is where fate stepped in and provided us with the best candidates for the parts. We only auditioned/interviewed three actors, purely because we did not know them. In all the other parts we cast major actors, with outstanding results,” says Archer.

The storyline centres on three prominent families, namely, the Tredouxs, the Smithymans and the Normingtons.

The Tredoux family are a traditional Afrikaans family from a small Boland town. The family is headed by a controlling conservative father, a subservient mother and their two offspring, Stephen Tredoux and his younger sister Jane. In their entrepreneurship journey, Stephen embraces the concept of selling to a willing market from an early age, while Jane absolutely detests it and rebels against it. The Tredoux family’s Oupa (grandfather) is the voice of reason and a true freethinking liberal.

The Smithymans, on the other hand, are a wealthy small family, living in isolation on a Karoo Farm. The family is made up of a billionaire farmer and mine owner, and his only daughter. The single father enlists the help of private tutors and governesses to maintain his household. Only the best is good enough for his daughter, who is intellectually above her peers and manages to secure a place at Cambridge University before the age of sixteen.

The final household is the Normington family from Port Elizabeth. This family includes a carefree saxophonist who is married to a primary school teacher. The two clash nonstop but despite their constant bickering it is evident that they truly love one another. The Normington family grows when they become stepparents to a nephew who glides through school and becomes a top student at the University of Witwatersrand.

In season one, set it in the early 1980s, viewers meet the main characters as young children and witness the way in which their parents influence their lives during their primary years. As the series progresses the children blossom into teenagers, then young adults, trying to make the most of their lives with the opportunities presented to them.

Onder Die Suiderkruis, was shot on the Canon C300 camera with Zeiss CP2 lenses. “We decided to go for a cinematographic look and feel in a 1:85 format. This allowed us black bands at the top and bottom of the screen as we did not want the obligatory subtitles to intrude in the picture,” Archer expands. “Re-creating the different periods from 1980 to the mid-90s was difficult and asked for authenticity, mainly because a huge percentage of viewers remember those years vividly. For instance, CDs came on the market in the mid-80s. Cellphones arrived in 1994. We are talking about laptops, what people wore then, hairstyles, accessories, transport, furniture, etc. But looking at the end result, all the effort paid off handsomely.”

“There will be elements, incidents and situations portrayed in the show that viewers will recognise and take to heart, but having said that, our main aim remains to intrigue, to amuse, to stimulate and above all, to entertain,” Archer concludes.

Onder Die Suiderkruis is a 13-part series with each episode running for 45 minutes. Viewers have already shown their love for the storyline and characters of the show, on the Onder Die Suiderkruis Facebook page, which reached 1000 followers on 21 June, just ten days after the show first aired on television.

Dean Kotze remarked: Wow! This is absolutely amazing! Well done to all involved…

While Sunel Nomava Zwane commented: I cannot remember the last time I was so excited about a show, first episode left me shaken. Your cast is amazing but, I was blown away by the performance of Christia Visser, what an amazing talent, in one word WOW.”

TECH CHECK

EQUIPMENT

  • Camera: Canon C300
  • Lenses: Zeiss CP2 lenses

Onder Die Suiderkruis was shot on the Canon C300 with Zeiss CP2 lenses.

KEY CREW:

  • Writer/Producer: Johan van Jaarsveldt
  • Director: Elizabeth Archer
  • DOP: Marc Degenaar
  • Editor: Morne Jacobsz
  • Sound: Craig Ormond

 

Sierra Leone filmmakers join forces to document the devastating effect of Ebola in their country

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: The 2014 Ebola outbreak, which left more than 30 000 people infected and over 11 000 dead, remains one of the deadliest health disasters in West Africa. While the plague is said to have begun in rural Guinea, it quickly spread to other countries, including Liberia and Sierra Leone, challenging the already poor health systems in these countries, and slumping their economies and populations in just 24 months.

Out of the country’s darkest moments came great heroes and amazing stories of survival. The stories of these brave survivors are captured in a new documentary aptly titled Survivor.

“In Sierra Leone, we do not have Spiderman or Superman or Captain America as heroes, what we have are these men who are risking their lives to save ours. It can also be seen as raising the confidence bar in Sierra Leone. The lack of confidence in ourselves and our total dependency on the West for aid in everything can be overcome if we are able to see ourselves as being capable. It is my desire for the world to know that we did what we can and what we did as individuals and a country collectively was worthwhile,” expresses Arthur Pratt, a filmmaker and pastor from Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone.

Pratt is the co-founder of the Sierra Leone Film Council, the country’s first media-makers’ union. He is also the co-founder and manager of the WeOwnTV programme, an organisation which was actively involved in informing and educating the nation about the Ebola virus during the outbreak.

WeOwnTV, in association with the Sierra Leone Film Council, designed public service announcements which included short videos to help dissolve the many rumours and myths hindering the fight against Ebola. “The first video we did, titled Waytin ar For No But Ebola (What I Need to Know About Ebola), was designed to answer key questions that were considered issues by the general population such as: What is Ebola? How is it transmitted? What are its symptoms? What are the precautionary steps to take in case of a suspected case? The second short film was designed to specifically target the issue of lack of trust for the medical sector – which by then was resulting into an ever-increasing rate of infection as people sought traditional help rather than going to the hospitals,” informs Pratt.

However, in the film Survivor, Pratt decided to pursue a collaborative project whereby he led a team of 18 Sierra Leonean filmmakers to film in different parts of the country. The film, shot over two years, includes accounts from when the outbreak was at its worst, up until the country was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Making the film was also a personal journey for Pratt who says that he was sick and tired of the global image depicted about the Ebola virus in his country. “The Western countries were quick to lead with flashy headlines that presented a negative image of Africa playing into and contributing to the stereotype of dependency and ignorance. Most stories focused on the efforts of western intervention. Headlines missed the complexities. Yes, burial practices contributed to the spread of the disease for example, but our religious leaders and institutions were also instrumental in helping communities change their behaviours. Not to mention the omission of the massive contribution of African nationals in the fight. They were the foot soldiers of this war. There was an incredible spirit of volunteerism in my country that was missed. I needed to tell the stories of those brave men and women who without the much talked about protective gears and very little or no knowledge of the disease, braved the situation to help those dying and in need.”

In the film, Pratt sets out to explore his characters thoughts, struggles and efforts during one of the most frightening and deadliest times in Sierra Leone. “At the start, we were following many characters, and as the production continues, we began to focus on Mohamed, Margaret and Foday. We developed quite close relationships with them and also felt their stories each contributed unique elements to the story and how it is told,” Pratt says.

It has been reported that before Ebola struck, there were 136 doctors and 1 017 nurses serving six million people. During the epidemic, 488 of these health professionals lost their lives. Mohamed Bangura, a senior ambulance driver and Margaret Sesay, a nurse at the Emergency Ebola Treatment Centre, are two individuals that the film follows as they risk their lives to save those who are infected.

In Survivor we see Bangura carry a sick man on his back because the man lives at the top of a hill, on a treacherous route, that a vehicle cannot access. As a driver, Bangura is forbidden from touching sick people.

Sesay, who has worked with Pratt in various community outreach projects, initially was not working when the Ebola outbreak hit. She, like many other citizens, was afraid of contracting the disease and feared being abandoned by her family if she continued with her nursing duties. Pratt intervened, making Sesay recite her nurse’s pledge, and within weeks she was working at the Emergency Ebola Unit without her family’s knowledge.

The youngest person featured in the film is a brave 12-year-old boy, named Foday Koroma, who hustles through life and lives in the streets with his friends. The film shows the young boy and his friends desperately trying to rent a room when they are told to wait 21 days as most vacancies have been quarantined as a result of former tenants carrying the virus.

Pratt helps the young boy to return home where he finds his old and frail father. His father encourages him to go back to school before he succumbs to his death as a result of a long-term chronic illness. Koroma carries on living in the home he shared with his father while continuing with his schooling.

In darker scenes, health workers are seen carrying dead bodies and sick patients away from their homes as their families look on helplessly.

The film was shot on the Canon DSLR 7D, the Sony EX1 and the GoPro 4. A DJI Phantom 4 drone was also used to capture aerial views in some areas. “The Sony EX1 was very important in terms of the observational shoot, interviews and ambulance chase – the picture and sound quality is exceptional. The Canon 7D was a ‘ready-to-go camera’, as we used it when shooting in more volatile areas and it is easy to set-up and carry. For obvious reasons, the GoPro camera was used mostly in the red zones in treatment centres and with the ambulance team for pick-ups.”

Survivor recently had its African premiere at the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival in Cape Town and later went to China to showcase at the Shanghai International Film Festival.

“The reception was great. We came to Encounters first because we wanted the African audience. They seemed to understand the nuances of the humanitarian organisations and the communities they serve. They got the humour. We also had many medical workers who had actually worked in Freetown during the outbreak. They commented that they appreciated seeing this side of the story, that it was an important insight and they are now planning screenings of the film for their organisations,” Pratt informs.

Survivor will be broadcast in North America on PBS’s POV television series later in the year.

“We plan to premiere the film in Sierra Leone in November during the three year anniversary of the end of Ebola. We also have extensive plans to screen the film in communities around the country,” adds Pratt.

In conclusion, Pratt says that viewers can learn so much about African people in general, and about his home country of Sierra Leone. “Even though we can be poor, we are not naïve, and we are strong people. The world needs to understand that we agree that there are problems but in my view, they should not be used to negatively brand an entire nation. People should also look at themselves and at the way they interact with their own family and community and country. Our characters make complicated ethical decisions throughout the film. How would you react? What can these heroes teach us?”

TECH CHECK

EQUIPMENT:

  • Camera: Sony EX1, Canon 7D and GoPro 4 cameras

“The Sony EX1 was very important in terms of the observational shoot, interviews and ambulance chase – the picture and sound quality is exceptional. The Canon 7D was a ‘ready-to-go camera’, as we used it when shooting in more volatile areas and it is easy to set-up and carry. For obvious reasons, the GoPro camera was used mostly in the red zones in treatment centres and with the ambulance team for pick-ups.”– Arthur Pratt

KEY CREW:

  • Director: Arthur Pratt
  • Directors: Banker White, Anna Fitch, Barmmy Boy
  • DOP: Barmmy Boy and MJ Sessy Kamara
  • Producers: Anna Fitch, Arthur Pratt, Banker White, Barmmy Boy, Samantha Grant, Sara Dosa
  • Editors: Banker White, Don Bernier

By Gezzy S Sibisi

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