Saturday, July 22, 2017

Three things I learnt about storytelling from Liyana

The 2017 Durban International Film Festival played host to the South African première of Liyana, a hybrid documentary animation chronicling the experiences of a group of orphans in Swaziland. Watching this masterpiece and talking to its creators taught me a thing or two about storytelling.

How you tell a story defines you as the storyteller

It tells us about who you are and your values. Liyana is beautiful to look at and listen to. From the gentle sunlight shimmering on the surface of a river and water glistening on the bodies of children as they emerge from it, to the hauntingly beautiful voice that mourns the tragedies and hardships that these babies endure. Liyana is authentic. The animation by Shofela Coker is bold, vibrant and detailed.  Ihiya looks like ihiya that my Swati friend wore on the day of her wedding. Uthuli on Liyana’s skin looks like uthuli on my skin after I spend a day in the villages of Digkale in South Africa or Tokwana in Zimbabwe. The detail on a chitenge at Liyana’s grandmother’s house… I could go on. Details are important and in being attentive to detail, this film demonstrates a rigor that is incredibly respectful of its subjects and audience. As an African in a world that fetishizes our suffering and paints us with a single brush, the way the story is told makes me feel respected, seen and heard. I believe that the way that the makers of Liyana tell her story shows that they are deeply empathic towards these amazing children and from talking to them I know that they consider themselves fortunate to have had the opportunity to help bring this story to the world.

Who tells a story is as important as the story

It would have been easy to simply follow the children around with cameras as they lived their day-to-day lives and then just narrate a voice over that domineers over the story like so many other documentaries we’ve seen. But Aaron and Amanda Kopp didn’t do that. They chose a more resource-intensive process of work-shopping with the children and letting the real story, Liyana emerge organically. The makers chose to be facilitators and enablers, letting the children drive the narrative. With the consummate storyteller Gcina Mhlope holding their hands like a doula would a woman in labour, the children birthed Liyana in a realm of its own. The film makers recognize that these children have the right to be involved in matters concerning them and that they are capable of voicing their own experiences. “We didn’t want to exploit them,” they tell me earnestly and with that I know that this film is the result of a pure intention to create and share some magic with the children. A story about young people, by young people, Liyana is the child of the children whose life experiences informed her journey.

The important thing is to tell the story!
The children featured in Liyana are teens now as the film was eight years in the making. During the screening there is a moment when, eyes brimming with tears, I looked behind me to gauge the reaction of the rest of the audience. Seeing the looks on their faces as they watched their younger selves on the big screen gave me life! It was a combination of joy, pride and awe. This is their story and now the world gets to be a part of it. Amazing!

Liyana is doing the rounds at film festivals globally and I will be throwing my heart and soul into supporting the team to get it shown on as many screens in communities that don’t see themselves portrayed so beautifully as we possibly can.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Bubbly and Graffiti in Spain

I had only two non-negotiable goals: to drink copious quantities of sparkling wine and to keep my eyes peeled for interesting street art. The rest was up to chance and circumstance. I got lost a lot. And I drank a lot of cava. While of course I prefer to drink my bubbles in a long stemmed crystal champagne flute, sometimes you need to multi-task. What's a girl to do when there are sights to be seen and cava to be drunk? She hits up a wine shop, buys a bottle or two, decants the contents into a flask and becomes no different from your local wino wandering the streets aimlessly with a camera in hand. That's what I did and that's all I'm saying about it. So here is a small sample the pictorial results of my happy, tipsy, whimsical adventures drinking the stars in Madrid and Barcelona.

And my first prize goes to...

3 x 3

I love music. I love cinema. Here are my top three films about music in three words.

⏯  Whiplash
Purpose Discipline Tenacity
P.S: Watch the video to the end. It's totally worth it.

⏯  Begin Again
Freedom Creativity Authenticity

⏯  Beats of the Antonov
Conflict Resilience Acoustic

Sunday, February 19, 2017

What's In A Name? Ukwanda and the inexorable joy of being Si-andisile

I used to hate my name. Because my mind was colonised by the delusion that to be white was a norm to which I should have been aspiring. This delusion was fed by My Little Pony and Friends and Punkie Brewster and Clueless (yes, I am a 90s kid) as well a slew of insidious mental imperialists ranging from literature (whaddup Famous Five, Pollyanna and Little House on the Prairie) to pop culture (wha-hey Kylie Minogue, Vanessa Carlton and S Club 7) that made white culture, experience and life normative for me even though it was completely foreign. So I hated my name. I wished that it was shorter and/or anglophone, like Michelle, Sasha, Megan or Charmaine - actual names I wished were mine at some juncture. It wasn't just white names, though, any name that could easily lend itself to being anglicized or was short, snappy and easy for white people to pronounce would have sufficed.

But my mom loves Sandisile. Lord bless her "uncolonizable", indomitable spirit, the lady picked a name for me on October 17th, 33 years ago and stuck to her guns. She says it in full with a quiet pride, Sun-di-SEE-leh. Or in short, Sandi, with a high inflection on the last syllable: Sun-DEE, like it's a cool, complicated question she is asking to which she already knows the answer. And the answer is a confident declaration of everything being more thank ok, of all our needs being met and then some. The answer lies in the root of the name which is the Nguni word ukwanda.

Ukwanda: Increase, expansion, growth, accumulation. - Google Translate.

Ukwanda is a Xhosa word and the meaning can be translated as: “to grow” and “develop” within the community; to make a positive difference. - Stellenbosch University

My name means "we have created abundance," and if whoever came up with the Stellenbosch definition is worth his or her salt, then it also means we have made a positive difference. I love it. It's a good name to live up to. It's not without its pitfalls, though, as there is a thin line between abundance, which is beautiful and self-affirming and excess, which is destructive. A part of the journey of a Sandisile is learning how to strike that very fine balance and live a life in which she treads lightly so as not destroy (herself and whatever she comes in contact with - or whomever...) and a life in which she gives and receives with abundant joy and gratitude. This is not a bad life quest and I have been happily conducting this exciting experiment in-vivo with some very interesting results. I'm bringing people together, strangers and long lost friends alike. I'm creating access to opportunity for people who don't have a lot of bridging social capital. I'm manifesting beautiful learning and growth opportunities for myself as I simply live out the inexorable joy of being one whose mission is to make the circle beeger when it comes to good things for good people. Aweh ma-se-kind!

Because everything is ok and there is more than enough of everything you have ever needed.