Featured: Nomakhomazi Dyosopu-Dewavrin On The Making Of ‘Ndi Vumeni’



Coming from a small town in the Eastern Cape, Nomakhomazi Dyosopu-Dewavrin has made a respectable name for herself as a film director in the South African film industry. The self-taught director hadn’t considered a career in the film industry until taking up a short African film course at university during her undergrad years studying media and communications. Believing in herself and her new found passion, she blindly plunged into the industry and never looked back.


Having directed commercials for Metro FM for their 21st anniversary, MTN and Clorets, Nomakhomazi tackled different material in her four-part documentary series called Ndi Vumeni which aired on SABC. The series which she wrote and directed features South African creatives who are surfacing in powerful ways across the country. Emphasising the importance of arts and supporting local ventures, this insightful filmmaker urges South Africans to focus on the positives in the country. One part of the four episodes, ‘Ndi Vumeni: Faniswa’ is currently being screened at the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival and will go on to show at the Atlanta Black Star film festival in the United States.


We chat to Nomakhomazi to find out more about the making of the series.


How did you come up with the concept of featuring a growing breed of creative workers in the country?


When I returned to the Eastern Cape to launch The Film and Music Office, I realised the need for our generation living in the forgotten municipalities to have their voices heard. There is also a sense of despondency and hopelessness in our community because of unemployment and access to proper higher education. The creative/art industry continued to be the echoing voice that proved to be the saving grace for us in these times. Things in South Africa are not black and white anymore and art is the platform to clarify and decode some of these external and internal elements we face as young people.


I wanted to profile artists who wanted to say something to this effect. Some say we will never have the spirit that the youth of 1976 had. I believe this is wrong, the dreams and the fire that was aborted that day on June 16 lives in all of us. We just need to access it. I find that there is force in me that pushes me to be better and to serve my community. I don’t believe I will win my battles on the street marching. My weapon of choice is different. Everyone must choose and pick one. So I chose Visual Arts, Music, Performance Art and Fashion to demonstrate these different forms of expressing one’s self.


What was the criteria in the selection process of the creatives featured in the series? What is the story behind each of them?


The four-part documentary series seeked to profile, engage, and highlight the passion/tenacity of a growing breed of creative workers that were surfacing in incredible ways across the country. These creative mavericks – Abaqali: The New Originals, The New Makoya – locate their work in our complex/convoluted contradictory past and propel us to imagine a different and new future/s for the youth of country. The majority youth of our country are facing the triple threat of unemployment, poverty and inequality – making it often impossible to see beyond these seemingly insurmountable challenges. The documentary series follows the journeys of these pathfinders as they, through various ways, demonstrate the potential for the arts to play a more significant and developmental role in their communities. Interwoven within these journeys is the broader story of the role of the arts in delivering freedom in our country; how post-apartheid South African arts and culture can be a weapon for social action and change.


Each of the characters in the documentary had to have a ‘mission’ to overcome.


EP1: Mkhonto Gwazela (“The Art in the Rural”)
In the film we are introduced to Mkhonto Gwazela, an acclaimed ceramic artist based in the Eastern Cape, who travels to his ancestral home to share his love of art. In this episode we follow him as he tries to introduce art into schools in the rural areas. He selects 4 young school kids to collect waste around their village and create works of art that tell their stories. In the end he hosts an exhibition where he invites the parents and teachers. Everyone is amazed at the depth of each story told by the children. Parents are surprised at the hurt that their children harbour inside. Through their works the children are able to reveal their voices and tell their stories without inhibition.


EP2: The Smarteez (“Local is Kwaai”)
They (Lethabo, Floyd and Sibu) are a Fashion Collective based in Johannesburg. They are trailblazers in the fashion industry with their edgy street fashion and have featured in local and international fashion publications. All the fame has not translated into Rands in the bank. How do they begin to grow their market when the market values and consumes fashion made by international brands. We follow them as they engage with the fashion tribes of Soweto (CheeseGals; YeezeyBoys and Izikhothane) to convince them to buy from local designers.


EP3: Camagwini (“Stop the Exodus”)
Critically-acclaimed and SAMA-nominated artist, Camagwini returns home to the Eastern Cape in this episode. She seeks to highlight the plight of musicians that leave for the big city unprepared for the challenges that await them. She launches a campaign to encourage musicians to develop themselves in the Eastern Cape before they leave for the big cities.


EP4: Faniswa Yisa (“See Me in the Space”)
Renowned actress and performer Faniswa Yisa has a vision of creating a flash-mob type performance in the city centre to claim the spaces that were historically denied to people of colour in Cape Town. Working with a group of young women and other collaborators, they engage with the complex histories of the Mother City in new and exciting ways.




What was your journey like during the making of Ndi Vumeni? What were the challenges and what came easy?


The journey was very interesting, but what helped me was that I wrote before I started any research or any search for the characters. I mapped out what I wanted to say with the four films. I also wanted to create a format that I could follow throughout the production of the films. Initially I thought I would be able to have a full production team to assist me. However the budget did not allow this. In the end I was the second camera person and doing sound, I produced and did all the editing for the films. With the help of Uthando Baduza who assisted in some research and my only camera man Tebogo Phalane we were able to achieve something splendid.


Nothing was easy in making the films because all of them were character-driven. The challenge was to find people who lived my scripts. For the Smarteez episode I had a total of 12 characters in the film, intentionally of course. Each of them served a purpose to fulfill the script. The script kept me focused; I made sure I filmed as much as possible, this really assisted me in editing as I never ran out of information. After every film I was completely drained. The entire time you are making sure that your characters see your vision and walk the talk. The trick in all of this is to find people who live the story so that their answers come naturally and the journey is real and not forced. By the time we finished, each and every one of the people who participated were awakened to continue to pursue and keep pushing their art.


All the episodes in the series depict creative artists attempting to not only explain to others why art is important but also encourage them to buy local and base themselves locally before aiming for the bigger cities. What is important about putting an emphasis on the local?


When you put an emphasis on local you are saying a lot of things. You are telling people to rediscover their true identity, you are telling them to listen to their stories told by their people. You are telling them to unearth their history and most importantly you are telling them to love themselves. You have to respect the hustle that we’re all pushing to try and bring ourselves up; after decades of being told that we were nothing. This is obviously difficult because we were never taught to love ourselves. Art makes us love the talent of the person who hand-makes designer handbags. Art makes us fall in love with the writer of songs that speak to our hearts. Art moves us into action, art makes us to first look within before we look for things outside. It regenerates our imagination, it makes us see each other in a different way.


Your work includes short films, television shows, music videos and several successful TV commercials. Which one of these is your preferred medium and why?


Each of the different mediums serves its purpose. Right now I have fallen in love with documentaries, but I am a self-taught director so I also realise the need to change between these formats to train myself. Now I need to make a feature film but before that I need to make a short film. All the different works that I have created will assist when I tell a story in that particular format.


How would you describe your directing style?


Psychology; you have to watch everything and everyone around you. You have to be aware of the little things and pre-empt the future. When I make adverts I know the performance has to be on point because I do not have much time to set up the story. So I put a lot of emphasis on finding the right characters that have the story written all over their face. When I make music videos every shot is visually rich. When I make documentaries I re-ask my characters the same questions throughout the shoot until I feel their answers are real and honest. I call myself a peeler, the tin opener. I create an environment for anybody to feel comfortable to open themselves up. I become part of the story, I live the story right to the very end. I cry with you and laugh with you. I make you understand before I start asking from you.




You say that growing up, you never saw the film industry as a career for yourself. How did this change? If you weren’t a film director, what would you be?


The reason why it was not part of my reality was because I never came across it in my path until I was in university studying some of the African films made by Africans in the 70s. What changed was the exposure to knowledge about it. I followed my spirit and it became a calling, it came naturally and nobody understood my determination because I never made tea for anybody on set to get to direct. I directed instinctively. The textbook came later when I started to learn the technical aspect of it – of the camera, lighting, editing. I threw myself into the ocean and made sure I stayed above the waters. I did not put boundaries on myself, I went full force and claimed my space in the industry. I truly believed and still believe that my voice has its place in all this noise.


Do you think it’s the responsibility of the creatives to drive us to imagine a new and different future for the youth of the country?


I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to want to re-imagine a different life first for themselves and for others. Positives don’t exist without negatives. Now that we have been accustomed to pain, violence and anger, we all know that the opposites of all these negative realities do exist. We should all strive to experience these positives. Creative people serve as reminders for all those stuck in the system of routine. Artists inspire people who think and believe that they need to wake up every morning to go serve. Creative people reveal colour of the world “artificially” masked by darkness. Creatives tap into the truth. When you ask someone to draw something on a piece of paper, you are asking them to be honest, you are asking them to share a piece of themselves.


How would you describe the South African film industry? What advice do you have for aspiring South African filmmakers?


Well, every year it gets better. That means more content is being made and more people are entering into the industry. We just need more access to funding and to cut down some of the red tape. Filmmaking should not be for the elite and for those who can decode the funding applications that get put out there. The more stories we tell, the more we are creating the opportunity to archive and write our own history for future generations. Nobody should tell somebody his or her story does not matter. When we have been silenced for so long, when we have been written out of history for centuries. Now is the time to open the gates and allow the voices of the people to be heard.


Are you currently working on any new projects that we can look forward to?


Currently I am working on a documentary about the history of Port Elizabeth. It is challenging because it is a collection of oral history, there are not many books about my people. I need to capture those who still hold the stories before they pass on.


Ndi Vumeni: Fundiswa at Encounters




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