A few contemporary filmmakers in South Africa have found a mode of storytelling that is at once challenging, therapeutic and exemplary of Our ethereal nature in violent times.
As the political climate in South Africa evolves, so do the ways of archiving a more inclusive and truthful conversation around race and identities. Three new films in particular, all self-funded or crowd-funded and completed through an organic process that finds its roots in collaboration, are among the films bringing to light the margins of the mainstream.
These films do not provide answers nor attempt to teach, rather they bring our awareness to the idea of the residues of Black Radicalism as a substance which remains to be discovered. Promised Land Fallacy is one and questions how we move away from the 2017 film’s director and curator, Kyla Philander, calls the “super academic inaccessible space and make content for decolonisation that is accessible”.
The documentary emerged through the formation of the Transcollective – a collective of Womxn and non-binary student activists at UCT. Sandile Ndelu and Thato Pule, the founding members of Transcollective, needed a video for their SRC campaign at UCT. Kyla had been in the protest space during #RhodesMustFall in 2015, and as a non-student at UCT taking part in the fight for decolonisation, Kyla noticed:
“There was a major issue with representation within the protest space: there are significant cis-gendered men, who are at the forefront of these revolutions– or that’s how it’s painted. But what I was seeing was femme bodies – womxn and non-binary people – and queer people leading the movement, like at the heart of it.”
Kyla saw this imbalance of representation as an opportunity to create Promised Land Fallacy, a film that interrogates the Western Cape “as a queer haven, and queer safe space. But what happens when that queer body is Black?” asks Kyla and the Transcollective. Promised Land Fallacy vows to fill in the gap in conversations around race and identity in present-day South Africa, shedding light on Queer history in the making.
For Puleng Stewart and Jannous Aukema, the start of last year saw the birth of their child and the conception of their upcoming film, Until the Silence Comes. Puleng – a theatre director and writer – and Jannous – a cinematographer, editor and musician – are striving to make the kind of work that is rooted in collaboration, as Puleng says, “This has been a process of community art-making in quite a phenomenal way.
“I love the young artists in this country, we are hungry for good things, and we’re a community, and if we don’t call on each other to do the work, the work will never happen.”
Until the Silence Comes was made under the working title of Ebhofolo, inspired by the song by Zim Ngqawana, about a mental asylum, and acts as a “reference to existing within a white gaze, and that gaze in and of itself negating your ability to live magic that is real,” says Puleng.
Like Kyla and Puleng and Jannous, Zara Julius’s recent film MIXED SPACE, sees collaborative filmmaking as part of its core. Joburg-native Zara has a background in visual anthropology and uses film and photography to narrate healing stories. MIXED SPACE came about from a series of focus groups hosted in her flat in Cape Town, of people who are mixed race.
Zara elaborates, “I think the mere act of telling your own story and having someone else bear witness to that is itself an artistic exercise especially if it’s people who are previously colonized or have that history in them.” What comes across in the film is the experience of life on the borders of identity, where one is both fetishised and used as a buffer, both the oppressed and the oppressor.
So as these movies screen across the country and beyond, the power of the collaborative filmmaking process, especially for marginalised voices, is achieved in the sharing of a kaleidoscope totality of voices; speaking to universal themes with the kind of honesty that should make you a little uncomfortable.
Promised Land Fallacy is on at Encounters Documentary Festival in Johannesburg on Sunday 11 June at 10am.