Apartheid is too recent a memory, culturally, for communities to mix freely without fear. But with films as the common passion, it is “a way to heal” those rifts and create a brotherhood where none existed before
Community is a powerful thing. It binds people together, gives them a support structure to depend on and gives life meaning. It can also hold a person back, cap their potential and breed structural trauma.
In the documentary ‘Film School Africa’, Nathan Plaff explores how making films in community schools in South Africa in Kayamandi and Strand helped the black people and people of color from the once segregated “townships” with a chance to build new communities of hope to counter the hopelessness they encountered in their own communities.
The film’s synopsis states it is about Katie Taylor, a Los Angeles casting director, who leaves her quickly growing career behind in order to teach filmmaking to youth in an impoverished South African community. While the film does start out like it is going to be a puff piece on Taylor and her non-profit, it quickly becomes involved in the narratives of the young people living in the townships who in Taylor’s words were able to “get out” of their poverty-entrenched communities where domestic abuse, street violence, drugs use, and teenage pregnancies are common occurrences.
In South Africa, where apartheid was abolished only in 1991, the wounds are still raw. The systemic segregation and disenfranchisement of black communities created the ghetto “townships”, while the white Afrikaans lived in the “suburbs”.
The film weaves its way chronologically from when Taylor first came to South Africa and decided to lead a six-month filmmaking program for a few kids who expressed an interest in Kayamandi. When she left, most people thought she would never come back because, in the words of one of the interviewees, “that has happened before”.
But Taylor came back, which in itself was a miracle. This first miracle birthed the miracles that followed. Filmmaking became art therapy for the youth who came to the community schools she started, first in Kayamandi and then in Strand.
The topics of the films — like the effects of alcoholism and domestic violence, of mob justice in these ghetto townships, of abuse — show that the community schools created a space for the kids to pour out their trauma on paper and then film and make it visible. It is heartbreaking to hear the teenagers say that before film school, no one had asked them what they felt about majorly traumatic events in their life.
From the very beginning, it is made clear that within these impoverished townships, filmmaking is considered as something “white” or “rich” people do. It is a luxury that is so far removed from their reality that the students face opposition from the ones closest to them till they see the film they are making. Some parents even participate in these films as actors, reliving the worst moments of their life, like battling alcoholism. The community schools also became the place to recruit scholarship students for the Film department at Pneumatix College that Taylor collaborated with to create the ‘Film School Africa’ (FSA) graduate program.
The film shows how the first four full-time students, Tsakane ‘TK’ Shikwambana, Juan Van Der Walt, Sihle James, and Repholositwe ‘Repo’ Mpitsa, who came from radically different ethnic and cultural backgrounds became a family unit and a new community of hope as they trained to become professionals who could be employed in the booming South African film industry. It is what makes Juan, a white Afrikaan student who locks his car doors in fear when they go in to film in these areas at the start of the film, to walk alone with his camera, filming footage in those very streets, saying he loves Kayamandi by the time the film ends.
As Sihle James, one of the graduates of FSA, apartheid is too recent a memory, culturally, for communities to mix freely without fear. But with films as the common passion, it is “a way to heal” those rifts and create a brotherhood where none existed before.
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Roxane Gay on using art to confront history
The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by the answers.
— James Baldwin
To create one’s own world in any of the arts takes courage.
“As musicians and artists, it’s important we have an environment — and I guess when I say environment, I really mean the industry that really nurtures these gifts. Oftentimes, the machine can overlook the need to take care of the people who produce the sounds that have a lot to do with the health and well-being of society.” – Lauryn Hill
The life and essence of art—whether it be painting, music, or dance—lies in expressing through a wellspring of emotion the universal realm of the human spirit. It is a melding of the individual and the universal. That is why great art reaches out beyond ethnic and national barriers to move people all over the world.
Responsibility is what awaits outside the Eden of Creativity
—Nadine Gordimer South African novelist, The Essential Gesture, lecture, 12 Oct 1984
Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me.
A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.
—Antoine de St. Exupery
I’m not a political singer. I don’t know what the word means. People think I consciously decided to tell the world what was happening in South Africa. No! I was singing about my life, and in South Africa we always sang about what was happening to us — especially the things that hurt us.
Stories are the secret reservoir of values: change the stories individuals or nations live by and tell themselves, and you change the individuals and nations.
—Ben Okri, Nobel Prize for Literature
“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.
The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.
Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.
― Arundhati Roy, War Talk
By peace we mean the capacity to transform conflicts with empathy, without violence and creativity- a never ending process.