NOT OF GOOD REPORT…

Of-good-report-poster
The day before the world came to a stand-still, due to reasons I’m sure you’re all very familiar with by now The First Wednesday Film Club (FWFC), an independent film screening club in Johannesburg South African hosted it’s last movie screening of the year – the critically acclaimed and most controversial South African Film –OF GOOD REPORT -written and directed by Jahmil Qubeka. The event was well attended by many of Johannesburg’s top film producers, directors, actors, film lovers and fans alike. The room was packed to the brim with an eager pop-corn munching audience.  Why?  The film was unceremoniously banned by the South African film board minutes before it was meant to open the Durban International film festival in June this year, for underage pornographic content.   Festival goers were met with a muted Qubeka and a message saying the film could not be screened as that would constitute a criminal offense. Social media was abuzz with twitters of heightened fears of increased suppression of the right to freedom of expression by the state. The film however was later approved for screening, with a 16 plus age restriction. This led to the eventual screening of the film at FWFC.
A TRAGEDY
True to form the Master of Ceremonies (MC) for the evenings’ screening   comedian David Kibuka, of Etv’s Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola  (LNN) comedy show did not mince his words. “We are all here to watch child pornography, that’s what we all are here to see “he said to much self-conscious laughter from the audience. I had been looking forward to seeing the film myself; generally eager to find out if the film was truly worth of all the fuss. As South Africans we can be quite hysterical about nothing sometimes.  Of Good report is a story about a serial killer teacher who forms an illicit relationship with a 15-year-old student. The teacher soon becomes obsessed with the girl so much so that he ends up bludgeoning her to a pulp with a cricket bat and butchering her body to get rid of her.  The scenes are all very graphic, from the sex scenes which the film was originally banned for and the butchering scenes.  Throughout the process the teacher, is haunted by the image of his chain-smoking mother whom he also smothered to death. The teacher, though of good report, had been in the army and had just returned from a peace keeping mission from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and on his return had to serve as a nurse to his ailing mother, which required him to wake up at odd hours of the night to clean her up after each time she went to the toilet to relieve herself.  A tortured, soul, he does not utter a single word through-out the film, something which the film’s director Qubeka says was intended to silence men, who often are given a voice in society despite their many transgressions.  The film itself is very long and slow and full of graphic violence, employing film styles, such Film Noir including echoes of the Coen brothers.  Qubeka himself admits that there is nothing “original” in his choice of film styles, calling himself a kind of Film “DJ” who mixed all imaginable Film genres into one movie. Many in the audience were awed by the director’s technical abilities in making film for film sake, while others bemoaned the lack of a larger storyline. But since I’m not a film buff I will not focus on the style of the film but just tell you what I got from it.
INTERPRETING SOUTH AFRICA
I am all about story-lines when it comes to movies and films – and less about how the film was made though the two often go hand in hand. I enjoyed Qubeka’s treatment of the heavy subject of  Child pornography, the relationship between teacher and student, because though illicit in nature he did not attach any blame to any single character, simply telling the story as it is, leaving it up to the audience to make their own judgments about who they would choose to empathize with.  All the characters are made vulnerable by their personal histories which when looked at holistically are equally traumatic, and each character acts out in different ways – all which are equally self-destructive.  However, the violent scenes where hard for me to take, and I would have put an 18 age restriction on the movie instead of 16 because of the high level of violent content. Why? Because I think we have our wires crossed a little bit, the Film board was not concerned about the violent content in this movie, only the sex scenes which are mostly implied, while the violence is not.  We make a lot of fuss about sex and less about violence: its okay to smother your mother to death with a pillow because you can’t stand their illness or taking care of them, it’s okay to bludgeon someone to death because they stopped loving you the way you want, but it’s not okay to have sex. The argument is often violence is real, its reality why not show it? Well so is sex? Why do we have double standards? However “real” it may be, killing is not a “natural” human function, hurting someone because of whatever reason is not natural.  Whether we perceive it as just a movie and therefore not “real” there’s no difference in the brain or in how our emotions react to what we see. It’s an experience, if there was a difference we wouldn’t cry at the movies when we see a touching or a sad scene because we would know it’s not real.  But we do and that’s because our emotions can’t tell the difference. The image becomes a memory and becomes a lived experience.   We suffer secondary, third levels of trauma as a result. We must take responsibility for what we do whether it’s in the name of “art” or “freedom” of expression.  Already as a country we suffer untold amounts of trauma from lived “real” experiences of violent crime, all the time, do we need see and experience more at the movies too?  I think the litmus test for every artist should be, would I be happy showing my child this  body of work to my child? If not then however interesting it is, it is not worth doing, if it’s not good enough for your child to see, it’s not good enough to be shown anywhere for anyone.  I think as artists we tend to take the easy route, pick on low hanging fruit, instead of really interrogating how we want to express our ideas. violence is easy. The more violence we see, the more immune we become to it, the more we find it easier to accept violent behavior in any shape or form as an acceptable part of human nature – which it isn’t.   So we learn that the only way to deal with trauma, pain or hurt is through violence – death.  Want to change how society behaves? Change the movies, change popular culture. Television and social media have an untold influence on human behavior whether you choose to acknowledge this fact or not.  If movies are about creating new ways of seeing the world, why don’t we focus on creating a world we would love to live in? Why perpetuate the same ugly, violence and hate crimes, and then hope to have a different result in real life?  We are all influenced by the images we see, whether we create them through “art” or we see them in real life no matter how “literate” we are. We are traumatized by the things we do and experience, children, even adults emulate what they see on television, good or bad in real life too.  Why don’t we practice loving each other? Talking to each other as a way of resolving problems instead of re-enforcing violent behavior and hate?  We might not be able to do away with violence in real life, but we can limit it on-screen, that we can surely control. So if a movie can be banned for implied sex scenes, which we all know happen in real life all the time but we still put age restrictions on such movies, why do we have different standards when it comes to violence?
I for one would have banned the movie all together.

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Lights, Camera, Action! Assume your Role

Are You Ready For Action?

I told a good friend of mine that I will write a book  about  dating myself one day.

She laughed.

I laughed too.

Because it’s ridiculous right  and we all do feel very  sorry for people who are alone in that sense. Ag shame she’s alone, we comment especially at  public and populated gatherings such as concerts, restaurants, big events, parties you can add more here. I wonder what is her story?. We whisper to each other, maybe she doesn’t have friends is the first obvious one, no maybe she’s going through something, or maybe there’s something  wrong with her, her life, she  must be unhappy. There are times when one  person in a group would say maybe they just want to be alone.  Then after that comment everyone breathes a sigh of relief because  – everyone is off the hook, if she chooses this alone woman person  to be alone, we can’t force her to be part of the group, us.  She  can go be all unhappy by herself it’s better that way, nothing is obviously wrong with her, we reason and anyway we don’t know her so we’re off the hook.

If life is a stage who is  the production-coordinator

Everyone goes out in groups, they call their friends and it is much like a  film production.  Everyone within the film industry knows that a  production coordinator is key, very key, to the success or failure of any given project.  They are the one who should be on top of the who, what, when, where, where, how, why and the in between question of a production things like ke back up for each and every element required for a successful film production, from catering to casting, to cameras, set design, extras , to the street security, to the rigging crew. The production coordinator  has to know everything about each department and also be able to trouble shoot problems as and when they occur, before, during and after the final cut. You have to have nerves of steel and be as gentle as a dove, you can’t be anyone’s enemy  – you have to be everyone’s friend  (know how to make them happy for best results) while maintaining a keen perspective on the bigger picture , able to  know and understand each stage of the productions cycle, what and who is needed when and how.

Production coordinators have to be able to make hard, decisive choices while being flexible and open enough to work with what they have and or hear other people’s suggestions. You have to be able to decide on the spot about what will work and what won’t work, for the production  in the  short  to long-term.  They also have to understand budgets – financial management – how to  use of what’s allocated optimally, know how much to spend and where to get the best available services for the production.  Production coordinators are always very busy people, always on the first ones to arrive the last ones to leave. They Never have time. I know I was “married” to one.  Respect.

So the co-ordinator is a very important person, more important than the big chief – the director of the said gig, because  directors  only focus on the details of the picture being as in the “actors ” not the entire production.  The production coordinator makes the director’s job easy, and even possible.

They  ultimately are the people who decide  who’s in or who is out in whatever gig  they are co-ordination be it  a huge  film production or a party gathering of friends.  You call up people, agencies and friends for a reason, this one is good for jokes and atmosphere, this is a good  mediator – a tutu of the gathering, this one is a shit-stirrer, this one always has stories to tell,  this one is a great cook, this one is good cleaner,  and this one will do whatever I want.  So if a production coordinator asks you what are you doing,  you better know your story, if you scratch your head, they move on really quickly  because they have no time to waste, time is precious as we speak they are on deadline  and they need to pull a number of people together so that you can watch a great picture or enjoy a good party at the end of the day.

So I imagine myself as the huge production ( a film a movie, the person I know I am is under construction )  and I play the role of the  production coordinator-assistant.  The production-coordinator being the Creator of us all. So how else will I know what I want, what I need, when and how, what makes me happy, what works, what doesn’t  which stage of the production cycle I am at, who do I need to speak to for support, for Ideas, to rest, to laugh, to cry to advise and be advised, to be nourished, pampered loved, pep-talked to?. How will I know what is going on with me, if I don’t spend time with myself?  I cannot ask to be included in any production ( with another(s)  ) if I don’t know what my role in the production is.

To everything  there’s a season, a time and a purpose under heaven.

I have found myself  involved in  productions in which I didn’t know what my role is, am I a camera woman, a writer, an extra, an assistant? What am I doing here? Why do I hang out with these people, why do I go this restaurant, why do I wear these clothes, is it what I want or am I the person who will do whatever the production coordinator wants of a film production  I think I want to be in wants?, do I even want to be in this particular  production,  do I want my name on the credits after the movie has ended? I have had  a   lot  of  people tell me, oh I thought you were this or that, simply because I was seen on that show with people who do this or that, I never really had a role, I was just there more of an extra, and entertainer, good to look at, dance with maybe.

I have spent a lot time on my own in between the few productions I have been a part of  and almost always, before I was about to be called on for another production, they’ve been quiet moments – dead silent – as in no movement.  Not even a wink in my direction.  My ability or inability to be  still in that   moment has determined to some extent the  kind of production  I will be going into next.  And with each production  I  never had an idea, never knew what I wanted or what my life was about,  any smile would do  I would be so lonely. In many of the productions I was in, I was just happy to be included, to get a call and be part of a team, any team please.  Even though in almost all of them I  was  as a standby, an under-study, body-double, supporting act, never the main character.

The lead Act

When a production coordinator calls, he or she calls people who know what they are doing what they are about,  what services they provide at what cost under what circumstances, what they can and cannot do.  If they agree they sign an agreement with terms and conditions on both sides, so that both the production and the service provider are protected and know who they are dealing with.  They call the because they often know what you offer, seen your work before, worked with you previously or they were referred to you by someone in the industry they trust.  If you are already a good production your self,  or a very good service provider people will move mountains and break budgets to have you as part of their production team because they know you will add value to the production and not the other way around.

So in order to add value to any production, you must know that you have something of value in you to add. One has to spend time alone, with you “craft” whatever if may be – or to figure out what it is .  What services am I offering and do  still want to continue in this line of business. What do I need to make my business (myself) work, function? Am I happy with myself.

So in this way it makes perfect sense for a business to function properly on its own  and optimally before it can merge with another in any shape or form be it a co-production or a collaboration of any sort.  I feel like I have been dating myself for a very long time, even when I thought I was in “relationships”.    I have found myself in conversations with myself about the different productions I have been a part of, which ones I liked, not like and why. What did I gain  from each and every one of them, what I can use what I can I throw away, forget about, I need to forgive myself for treating myself like a nothing, a nobody, a throw away, bubble gum.

When the production – coordinator is in pre-production they are crazy people, all over the place especially the week before the shoot, and often you can’t even see what they are doing running around like headless chickens.  They are trouble shooting problems as directors and executive  producers change their minds about budgets etc, they need to make sure that everything and everybody is in place and running well, by the time the director walks in to say ACTION! and they are on their toes throughout the filming or production, until the director calls out It’s a WRAP! It’s a moment of relief, and sadness and time for renewal for another productions.

The work is not over but the production co-ordinator can relax a bit, it’s now over to post production – adding the final touches to the shoot and then the moment that we all see, is the Movie , the curtain the raiser the product, that we will like or dislike but it all started back there with the production coordinator who selected, make the calls, and spoke to almost everyone in the production chain to make the production a success.  They are never in the limelight,  there’s no Best Production Coordinator Oscar anywhere, they are there somewhere meshed up with the “crew”. But without them, no production will happen. But everyone in the production line  knows her name.

So I understand the value of spending time with myself… of being alone even though it’s feels crazy sometimes, having no one to share your thoughts with, bounce of ideas. It’s  a difficult thing to maintain, but it is necessary.

I think I’m ready to assume my role in this production called life and be – the best role any actor can be given….

Myself.

Alone or in Company.

I am in suspense myself and its the best feeling ev

EAT MY DUST….

Eat My Dust : Winners – Best ShortFiction Film at the Jozi Film Festival

….under the night sky….

You will be forgiven to assume that films produced by the Eat My Dust project are an answer to,  or a parody to the wide berth -lip- service politicians have paid to the community living in one of Soweto’s oldest township settlements: Kliptown since the  new democratic government took power in 1994.

Kliptown is historically significant for  South Africa’s political trajectory.  In 1955  it drew activist from across the four corners of South Africa onto a gravel football field to pen a document which is now the bed rock of;  the corner-stone of the country’s constitution and the bill of rights – that document is known as the Freedom Charter.   Why? Because across the railway tracks, Kliptown residents still live in conditions very similar, if not worse that those of the 1950s.  Residents still use communal toilets, there’s still no electricity or improved housing.  Despite numerous pleas from communities for roads, water and sanitation services, progress has been slow, bar from the  Multi-million rand Freedom Square with a 3 star hotel across the tracks.

Super Condom.

But Eat My Dust is not-about- that really, it is an idea that lives because a French  Movie Director  Delphine de Blic  met the community back in January 2011 and decided she wanted to do something.  That something turned into a  film school for the  active and eager youth  of Kliptown.   “The project started two year’s ago, when I arrived in South Africa and I met the community of Kliptown. I wanted to do something, so since I am a film director, I decided to teach them how to make movies I wanted to teach them the basics of film making quickly, and make it as fun and interactive as possible” She tells me outside the Bioscope in Johannesburgs’  Maboneng district where they were screening some of the films produced by Eat My Dust as part of the French Season in South Africa 2012/1213 initiative.  “They didn’t know very much about cinema, there’s no electricity and they can’t go to a cinema so they were virgins. My idea was to teach them about movies, starting from the founding fathers of film, including Charlie Chaplin amongst others, so they started to act; they start to handle the camera and booms etc, to direct just like that.”

Since then they have hosted monthly screenings of the films produced from interactive classroom lessons – outside – under  the night sky.

The movie-making project is  quite fitting for Kliptown as  it is the location of  Soweto’s firs ever cinema – the Sans Souci Bioscope – set up  in the 1950’s.  The cinema was an integral part of life in the neighbourhood until the building was destroyed by a fire in 1994.

In the two years since de Blic launched the project,  Eat My Dust has given birth to a popular character named SUPER-CONDOM.  “All these themes began from a very bad thing actually;  you know when you make a project in Africa the only  way to get funding is to talk about HIV and AIDS, which is  terrible I think.  So we looked into that and invited researchers and experts in the field to talk to the children about the disease, how it works, how the virus is transmitted. So very quickly we started a campaign which focused on discrimination,  encouraging people to condomise and get tested, then the character SUPER-CONDOM sprung from that ”.

The sexually ambiguous character of SUPER-CONDOM is played by  Sisonke.   In one of the films SUPER-CONDOM is dressed in his white Elvis Preslyesque costume and high heels, offers free hugs to passers-by near the busy road near Kliptown’s railway tracks with the catch phrase “I hug you positive or negative”.   The short film opens a window into the current changing attitudes of communities around the issue HIV and AIDs.

“We decided to make funny movies around the theme, SUPER-CONDOM is very sexy fun character who tackles the subject of AIDS in a fun way and it worked because, because SUPER-CONDOM is popular here ”  She says telling me of an unusual request from the community during last (October) months’ film screening “I think we’ve made more than 40 movies just about SUPER-CONDOM, and last month the community told me they don’t have condoms, they need more”  She says laughing. The Super Condom concept was so effective and popular that the  Film Festival of  Toronto, commissioned  similar films but with an ecological theme.  The request introduced the birth of  “Ecolosh” and the Green  Revolution series.   The name merges  Ecology  with the mythical and well-known South African character  of  Tokolosh, used to scare adults and children alike for generations.

“We worked with a designer, and with the crew picked up all the dirt near the river and surrounds, we washed off the filth and made the costume”

In one of the short films  “A romantic dinner”;  two lovers sit near the filthy banks of the local stream  to a dinner prepared by Ecolosh, they ask for water, and Ecolosh brings them a jug  from the polluted water down stream, and both lovers take a sip and die elegantly at the pristine table.

“Ecolosh is always there, doesn’t tell you what to do” says de Blic “But the message is effective”

Ecolosh

When I ask de Blic about access to  money  or  funding  her response is passionate.  “I have done this  with no budget, and have found ways get money along the way. I have not received any support from local film-makers,  I teach about French films because that is what I know, I would like to teach more about African film, I want to work with local film makers, but I have not found any volunteer or local film makers willing to help.  This is not a charity initiative – to appease my conscience –  I learn from them and they learn from me. I am a happier person because of it”

Boboy says when de Blic arrived in Kliptown they were busy doing drama, music and dance in different artist groups “ I’m glad now that I have a skill! I know how to do something now, we are happy to do something” He beams. “The screening is very popular in Kliptown, some three hundred people come to see the show every month” He says, adding, “Some locals don’t like to come to Kliptown because it’s dirty, or dangerous so we welcome people who come to teach us something”. I ask him how  it feels to be  the star of the show, after the Eat My Dust Crew won an award at the JoziFilm Festival  for best short fiction film,  he smiles politely and replies “I’m not the star the whole team is”

The Crew: Amanda Gashu, Boitumelo Mokhine, Nkhensani Moyana, Sibongile Nglobo, Nyeleti Ngobeni, Senzo Bongwana, Siphe Bongwana, Nkosi Gumede, Tumi Sibhoni, Hope Bvuma, Siphamandla Bongawana, Sisonke Nakami, Pontso Kgopane, Zine Sidelo and Bafana Lubabalo Mwambi.

Eat My Dust will screen its last open air cinema for 2012 on the 1 st of December in KlipTown.

You’re Invited.