History of the Film
"The Cradock Four" (feature documentary)
Winner of "Best South African Documentary" at the Durban International Film Festival 2010.
Shortlisted for the Amnesty International Durban Human Rights Award 2010.
Nominated for a SA Film & TV Award for best Cinematography in a Feature Doc 2016
Nominated for a MUSE Award for Best Feature Documentary Script 2015
Screened in Berlin, Moscow, Doha and across Africa.
When I Was Water (feature documentary)
When Marry-Ann was little, her mother hid her in a cupboard to stop South Africa's apartheid soldiers chasing her to school during the education boycotts. She saw men from her village being dragged to their death by “the comrades” who were fighting for liberation. Shops and houses burned. It was war.
These terrible images were replaced in 1994 by peaceful democratic elections, and a new president, Nelson Mandela. As South Africa underwent massive social transition, Marry-Ann was undergoing a similar change – her initiation at puberty into womanhood.
Against the background of the famous Ndebele culture, (her mother Angelina Sezani and grandmother Francina Ndimande are two of the most acclaimed exponents of the vivid geometric mural art that is world famous), we watch a girl grow into a woman over a period of 20 years – experiencing with her the highs and lows of her life.
I use Marry-Ann's experiences to creatively examine the dynamics of her two worlds in two main themes. The first is the dichotomy between rural and urban. The second is how modern western culture impacts on tribal tradition. A third, lesser, theme, is the dominance of African patriarchy.
The village backdrop of a semi-rural settlement four hours by bus on a dangerous road from the nearest metropolis are a sharp contrast to the city, and her experiences and dilemmas embody the “hidden histories” of millions of women around the globe and their daily struggle to live with dignity.
Marry-Ann guides us, in her own words, through her understanding of some of the major issues faced by young people today in the developing world: racism, poverty, crime, tradition, HIV-Aids, the abuse of women, and the environment but in a way that is personal, layered and contextualised.
Marry-Ann is as comfortable helping her mother paint in New York or Berlin as she is looking after her daughter, Malaika (Angel) at home in the dusty settlement of Mabhoko. How does Marry-Ann manage to keep a foot in the traditional homestead, and another in the urban city-world?
During her initiation in 1993/4 traditions created conflict as she sought a more modern identity. Ndebele ceremonies are signalled by spectacular dress codes that includes beaded rings and skirts. But Marry-Ann also played in another world, one of jeans and sneakers. "Wearing trousers" was something her granny would never have done, she laughs.
Our camera followed Marry-Ann through her traditional initiation and her marriage to Thisha, a policeman (a lavish three-ceremony affair that was both traditional and Western). The wedding was an ostentatious affair that took a year to plan. Marry-Ann was the princess in the village fairy tale.
They moved to the city so Thisha could be near work, and they built a home together. Then the rainbow faded. A friend was car-hijacked, raped and murdered. Weeks later, while pregnant, she herself was hijacked but escaped with her favourite uncle Rassie.
In 2004 we filmed the birth of her healthy daughter, with husband Thisha arriving minutes later – after his car broke down. But when Thisha lost his wedding ring. Marry-Ann saw it “as a sign”. Shortly afterwards she discovered his infidelity. She also found her husband took the side of his relatives against her. Once he kicked her out of the house in the middle of the night with their baby. “Blood is thicker than water,” she says wryly, “I was just water”.
Shamed by the stigma attached to the failure of her marriage in a conservative rural society, Marry-Ann moved back in with her mother, but was hospitalised with depression after her beloved uncle Rassie died of HIV-Aids. Marry-Ann found the strength to nurse Rassie through the terminal phase because the rest of the family had abandoned him.
Despite the democratic dream, in the rural areas things were not good. Despite the end of apartheid, little had changed in her home at Mabhoko – except there was water and electricity now. Unemployment remained sky high. This was a world where, as Marry-Ann says, the youth had “lost hope and spend their days drinking and partying". Rural education remained disgraceful. The incidence of HIV-Aids was the high and health care was totally dysfunctional.
The stigma of being a divorcee haunted her for several years, but slowly, through personal courage and soul searching Marry-Ann started building her life again.
She believed that her marriage failed because destiny had something else planned for her. Ironically, it was her strong traditional roots that helped her rebuild her self-esteem. And now the future looks brighter. Marry-Ann has created a new identity. She has rediscovered religion and Malaika grows more adorable by the day, reminding her of her own journey's young beginnings back in 1993 . . .
From the beginning, the film was observational. But we have turned the protagonist into the story-teller, reflecting on her own intimate moments and experiences, making sense of her own world, enhanced by excellent access and the long project duration. We watch a girl become a woman in 82 minutes – a unique story that represents millions of untold stories of similar young people from different cultures around the world in a rapidly changing environment.
Status: NFVF and privately financed. Distributor: Shadow Films. Completed October 2014.
"Red Star Over Africa" (3 x 52' Documentary Series)
"A Love Letter to Luxor" (short film. In post production)
"Swartbooi" (feature film in development)
ARIA (Archive Project in development)
"Five Shots to the Head" (Working Title, feature film in Development)
The Cradock Four
The Long Tears – An Ndebele Story
The Long Tears
An Ndebele Story
"The art of cinematography is the art of lighting, and making that light tell the story." – Stephen H Burum, ASC