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Gezzy S Sibisi

Gezzy S Sibisi
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.

Ellen Pakkies’ tragedy comes to life on the big screen 


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.



  • 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.


  • 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.



  • Camera: Sony F55

Ambitions was shot on the Sony F55 camera


  • 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.



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


  • 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.”



  • Camera: Canon C300
  • Lenses: Zeiss CP2 lenses

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


  • 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?”



  • 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


  • 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


This month we chatted to director Makere Thekiso…



What has really shaped me is growing up in Matatiele, travelling up and down the continent, and embracing my Sesotho roots. I did not go to film school, but every day I am in class learning new skills, you never really stop learning.


When I was I was on set as a production assistant I knew this is what I want to do. I directed for over five years before I even called myself a director. I had already won numerous awards and had already done a few popular TV shows for DSTV. I was measuring myself against my favourite local directors, and I felt that I needed to grow more and be less worried about titles, and just focus on working on my skills set.


I love photography, art in general, music, meeting different people, great conversations, technology, fashion, reading everything from blogs, books, Instagram feeds, Matatiele, being Mosotho, experiencing different things on a weekly basis to break my daily pattern, African cinema, Asian cinema, American cinema, fashion films and travelling. I am always looking for different things that will inspire me.


My business partner Jobie Bakama is my mentor even though we run Callback together. He spent a few years in Hollywood, so I get to pick up a lot of things from him, and because we work together on everything, we are constantly learning.

Anneke de Ridder (producer of Idols SA) groomed me when I first started in the industry. She helped us set up all the structures for our company eight years ago; she basically incubated us with Gavin Wratten, the director of Idols SA.


Ousmane Sembene, he is the father of African cinema, he did so much with so little, and I can really relate with that.

Akira Kurosawa, he designed so many shooting techniques his work is incredible.

Steven Spielberg, he can move from a period piece to sci-fi, action and drama so effortlessly.


I am currently in post with a short musical film that I directed in Ghana, and I am also wrapping up another short film titled Yvonne. Both projects are in post-production.

This year I am going to start pursuing commercials, I spent most of last year busy building my film portfolio and building teams around that. In the last seven years, I have directed a lot of TV shows, and I have put that on pause.


I really enjoy films that are the “Mecca” of storytelling, and I also love short form because you can really focus on the small details.


Running a business is a not for the faint-hearted. Having a business that has been running for eight years has been the biggest challenge, and I am proud and happy that Jobie and I are still standing. Being responsible for my team’s livelihood is a challenge.

The biggest challenge in our industry is for us as producers, directors and as creatives to own our intellectual property, so that we don’t work ourselves into an early grave.


Just making a living out of what I love is a career highlight and having an impact on people through my work is an incredible feeling.


Even though not Hollywood, I would love to see Once Upon a Time in China, the African version. It would be great to see a Chinese-African action film with people flying wearing African attire, and it must also be dubbed into English with the lips out of sync – go the whole nine yards.


  • Madadayo by Akira Kurosawa
  • Borom Sarret by Ousmane Sembene
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick


Morocco, I hear the settings are incredible.


Doctor Khumalo, Psyfo or Kwesta apparently I look like those three people.


I studied law, so I think I would be a lawyer and depressed.


Cartoon Network launches the Africa Creative Lab

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: Animation has long shaped the imaginations and aided the development of children. Taking another bold step in addressing the gap in locally relevant content which offers a viewing experience that resonates with its African audience, Cartoon Network is seeking fresh animation talent set to influence a new generation through storytelling.

Recently named the #1 Coolest Kids’ Channel in Africa at the Sunday Times Generation Next, Cartoon Network has launched a new initiative – the Cartoon Network Africa Creative Lab.

“We have worked hard, and had great opportunities to build long-lasting relationships with numerous influential networks, studios and animation associations in Africa, and we are fascinated by how the African filmmaking community brings creatives together from all over the continent. We want to tap into that inspiring pan-African exchange with this project. Through our years in Africa, we have been presented with an impressive number of talented African creatives, and from our experiences, we are convinced that it is important to launch these kinds of initiatives to reach talent,” says Ariane Suveg, head of Programming and Acquisition at Turner Kids Africa.

Entries for the first Cartoon Network Africa Creative Lab opened on 7 June and will close on 31 August 2018. African creatives and African-based companies from across the continent are urged to enter and need to be 18-years and over to participate.

The initiative aims to encourage African talents including creators, writers, graphic artists and animation students to submit their works.

Interested creatives need to produce an English short-form animated comedy piece that is between one to three minutes long, and is targeted at children between six to 12 years old.

“All kinds of humour, including irreverence and randomness is welcomed, with the comedy being driven by engaging characters and unexpected stories. The piece should portray positive values such as the kid spirit, kindness, diversity and never-ending imagination, with a unique graphism based on any animation technics (2D, 3D, stop motion, mixing real footage etc.),” shares Suveg.

The presentation of the piece should also include a pitch of the story, a description of the main characters, storyline(s) and graphic intention, as well as any additional material including story-boards, animatics and videos that will further enhance the story pitch.

Ten projects will then be shortlisted in September, and the lucky finalists will get the opportunity to pitch their work to Cartoon Network.

Turner has once again partnered with DISCOP Johannesburg, where the last leg of the challenge will take place from 14 to 16 November. “Turner has been partnering with DISCOP since 2016 when we collaborated with Animation South Africa (ASA) as the official sponsor of the first-ever Animation Lounge. That same year, we also hosted the Turner Kid’s Pitching Competition, a first strong initiative to bring forward African talent…” says Suveg. “Last year, we sponsored the African Animation Network (AAN) Village, boosting AAN’s efforts to develop animation talent in Africa… We believe that the collaboration between Turner and DISCOP is an essential way for us to get straight to the heart of the new and fast-growing African animation industry, and we value the local importance of the festival highly.”

The two runners-up and the winner will be announced during the 2018 DISCOP Johannesburg event. The winner and runners-up will also be given the opportunity to get their project produced as a pilot with Cartoon Network Africa. The chosen project will then premiere on Cartoon Network Africa and its digital platforms in 2019.

“We are impressed by the African presence at Annecy this year, and we are happy to meet a new generation of creative minds challenging the future of animation in Africa. We are more than excited to get started on the applications for Cartoon Network Africa Creative Lab!” exclaimed Suveg in conclusion.


The true story behind Kenyan medical thriller 18 Hours

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: In 2015 Alex Madaga, a labourer from Nairobi in Kenya, was a victim of a hit and run accident. Madaga was fortunate to survive the incident itself, only to pass away just 18 hours later when the ambulance carrying him was turned away at five different hospitals because he lacked the funds needed to be admitted and treated.

The tragic events that led to Madaga’s death and saw Brian Ochieng Odhiambo spend 18 hours in an ambulance attempting to save his life, made news headlines.

“I read the story on the daily newspaper back in 2015 when the story of the late Alex Madaga hit the news. My first impression was, how can this happen in Kenya’s capital city? How can an accident victim be denied admission on the basis of lack of money? It felt like a story that needed to be told, to serve as a reminder that such a situation occurred, and it should never occur again. It felt like holding up a mirror for our society and pointing out that there are avenues for change, many opportunities to make things right.” expresses Kenyan award-winning filmmaker, Kevin Njue.

Njue was inspired to pen down a film based on the brave paramedic’s ordeal, in an effort to inspire debate and seek change in the regulation of Kenya’s health system.

Odhiambo, the heroic paramedic, worked as a consultant to Njue during the development stage of the filmmaking process, offering invaluable insight into the life of a paramedic. Additionally, Odhiambo provided intricate detail on the events that cost Madaga his life on that fateful day.

In the film – aptly titled 18 Hours – Zach, played by Nick Ndeda, works for Raven Paramedics Services. While on duty, he receives an emergency call from a witness about an accident that happened along a highway; a pedestrian has been involved in a high-speed hit and run while on his way home from work. Zach then sets out on a rescue mission with his driver Mark, played by Brian Ogola.

Zach and Mark find the injured man bleeding profusely from his head and not moving – they manage to get him into the ambulance. The two men are later joined by the victim’s wife Sabina, played by Sue Wanjiru. Together they set out to different hospitals in a race against time to save the victim’s life.

Rejected by those who are meant to assist them, Zack makes every effort to keep the man alive. After spending 18 hours in the ambulance attempting to save the man’s life, he is finally admitted to a hospital but dies shortly thereafter.

18 Hours – written and directed by Njue – was shot on the Sony A7s, in and around Nairobi and Machakos in Kenya in just 12 days. “We filmed on the Sony A7s mainly because of its performance in low light. The camera is tiny compared to others which was a bonus for our handheld style,” says Njue. “We wanted to achieve an ‘out of body’ experience with the feel of the film through our handheld documentary style,” he adds. Production and post-production were handled by Rocque Pictures.

18 Hours made its debut in Kenya late last year, which included a marketing campaign with Kenyan athlete, David Rudisha to advocate for better emergency response in the country. The film was also instrumental in pushing for the Kenya Health Act of 2018 which states that health facilities should administer necessary immediate health care to prevent death or worsening of a medical situation.

“The highlight of the film so far has been the reception it gets from the audience wherever we have screened. More so, the impact it has had on the health policy push in the country,” Njue comments.

The film will kickstart its festival run with the upcoming Zanzibar International Film Festival, which takes place from 7 to 15 July 2018. “Zanzibar is the first festival screening. We had to start here because it was where we first screened our first short film back in 2014. It is our second home. As for other festivals, there are several lined up within the year,” Njue concluded.



  • Camera: Sony A7


  • Writer/Director: Kevin Njue
  • Producer: Phoebe Ruguru.
  • Editor: Mark Maina
  • Sound: Ronald Mugambi


Inside the making of the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class ad

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: In 1990, Mercedes-Benz released an iconic commercial aimed at showcasing how its vehicles are engineered like no other. The ad told the story of how Christopher White survived a crash that saw him lose control of his Mercedes-Benz after a moment’s inattention and plummet the equivalent of 30-stories onto the jagged rocks below – a crash that he survived only because he was wearing his seatbelt and driving a Mercedes-Benz.

It has been thirty years since White’s almost fatal accident but he remains devoted to the car brand that saved his life.

Mercedes-Benz recently launched its new S-Class – the brand’s latest foray on the road to autonomous driving. In the new commercial, which takes the form of a documentary-style content piece, White revisits the route that nearly ended his life, this time driving hands-free in the new S-Class.

Advertising agency, Net#work BBDO has been working with the Mercedes-Benz brand for ten years now, says creative director Tim Beckerling. “We’ve created so many great campaigns with Mercedes-Benz over the years, and this one certainly stands out for the whole agency/client team, as it is steeped in so much advertising history and heritage. What a privilege to revisit one of South Africa’s most iconic advertising stories, with the future facing ambitions of the brand right at the heart of it all.”

While the original 1990 spot was a re-enactment of White’s incredible story of survival; Beckerling says that it left the viewer unsettled and wanting more. With this in mind, Beckerling and his team decided to delve deeper into White’s story in the new commercial.

“We sold Mercedes-Benz a simple idea in the form of a newspaper headline ‘Famous Crash Survivor Returns to Chapman’s Peak in Autonomous S-Class’. We asked them to take the leap and imagine those very words on the front page of a newspaper, not only as a description of the idea but as the ambition for the project. To create something newsworthy, not advertising but rather a rich, dramatic story that people would be transfixed by, with the brand at the heart of it. They instantly saw the potential and gave us their full support on the project,” Beckerling shares.

As the starting point Net#work BBDO hired a private investigator to trace White’s whereabouts. Efforts were also made to find the production team that was involved in the original spot. “We spoke to a number of people involved in the production of the original ad but as you might guess, many of them have moved on and since retired. We managed to get Willie Sonnenberg on a radio interview recounting the filming of the original ad, done by Sonnenberg Murphy Leo Burnett, in the early 90’s and the impact it had on the market at the time. We also had chats with Keith Rose, the director of the original piece, very early on in pre-production,” informs Beckerling.

Cape Town-based production company, 7 Films, shot the new spot with Lourens van Rensburg directing. “Tim and myself go way back. We both love anything that is fast and has wheels. We’re passionate about motorsport and cars. We are proud to call ourselves petrol heads. We’ve been wanting to work on a project together for a while now and finally I got a phone call from Tim telling me that he has an idea that we can collaborate on. That’s where it started,” comments van Rensburg.

Beckerling briefed van Rensburg on the concept, while the private investigator managed to track down White: “We managed to locate him in East London and explained the concept to him. He is a loyal brand ambassador and absolutely loves the brand. He was keen from the beginning to be involved in this project,” says van Rensburg.

During pre-production, Van Rensburg and his team soon discovered that shooting the ad would come with its fair share of challenges. “Our greatest challenge was trying to close off Chapman’s Peak Drive. Thirty years ago when the first commercial was made, you were able to lock off Chapman’s Peak easily. Today there are bylaws and restrictions that we have to adhere by. The Parks Board were incredibly helpful and so was Schalk Bloem and his team. We had very little time that we could be on the road. We were not able to close the road completely. We had a rolling lock off which meant we had to keep moving and we couldn’t stop. That made it quite challenging having other cars on the road.  We had to stay within all the safety parameters and obey the rules of the road. Normally when we lock off the road, we don’t necessarily have to obey the rules.”

Beckerling conducted on-camera interviews with White, while art director Steven Tyler gave White driving lessons in the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class. “We wanted to achieve something real and believable. We didn’t want anything to be overdone. We wanted the audience to experience this like Christopher did,” tells van Rensburg.

“Chris was happy and eager to be involved, but he thought we were just making a film about the old story in slightly more detail. He had absolutely no idea that the car was going to be doing the driving for him until just moments before it actually took place. The film is a real representation of his shock and fear around the prospect of this as it happened in the moment and his trepidation really come across on screen,” adds Beckerling. After much convincing, White finally lets go of the steering wheel and the new S-Class drives him safely on the route that nearly cost him his life.

The new commercial was shot on the Arri Alexa Mini, with aerial shots captured by Timeslice Photography. “We wanted it to feel like a modern day Netflix documentary or series… We decided right up front that we were going to do everything on camera. No post-production, no nothing. That obviously made it more challenging but I believe the end result was worth it,” comments van Rensburg.

Additionally, archival footage was acquired from White along with a few others, as well as from the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI). James O’ Sullivan was responsible for editing. “We managed to secure James as our editor. He is an unbelievably young and talented editor who comes from a film background. We wanted an editor that could tell that story in a specific way and he was the perfect choice. The amount of archival and raw footage he had to go through was a great challenge. We believe that we could not have done it without him,” shares van Rensburg.

The spot was released toward the end of May 2018 and by the first week of June it was awarded Creative Online’s Editors Pick and the Best of the Week title on BestAdsonTV.com. The commercial was also featured as a Cannes Contender on Shots.net and popular SABC3 lifestyle show Top Billing did a behind-the-scenes feature on the ad.

“If there is ever a measure of success for a piece of carefully calculated creative work it is to go all the way back to the start and remind yourself of the objective. Ours was to make headlines and we have achieved that with aplomb. We’ve had kind words from people all over the world, from those who remember the original spot and those who weren’t even born when it first aired,” notes Beckerling.

“Hopefully the take out for the everyday South African is that the technology available in every Mercedes-Benz is designed with one critical thing in mind, their safety,” he concludes.



  • Camera: Arri Alexa Mini

The new S-Class commercial was shot on the Arri Alexa Mini, with aerial shots captured by Timeslice Cinematography


  • Director: Lourens Van Rensburg
  • DOP: Lourens Van Rensburg, Mike Ellis, Luke Van Rensburg
  • Sound: Zahir Isaacs
  • Editor: James O’Sullivan
  • Executive producer: Nina Van Rensburg


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