Meet the Young, Gifted and Black Film Collective Bringing Noir to Cape Town Film

Beneath a glossy exterior, the Cape Town film industry reflects a deplorable deficiency of Blackness. One collective is here to change that.

The city of Cape Town is a firm favourite of the international film market, with international producers lusting after our lush landscapes, state of the art studios and hardworking, capable crew. This all sounds great, and the economy seems to be a cinema fan. But beneath the glossy technicolour exterior the local film industry reflects a deplorable deficiency of Blackness.

In 1997, Mandla Langa, CEO of ICASA (the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa), charged the South African film industry with an “unbearable whiteness of being,” favouring those who already had access to an expensive medium and claiming that cinema was “hostile to the tradition of oral culture and unfriendly to black would-be filmmakers.”

Many would argue that little has changed since Langa’s outcry.

There is however a burgeoning collective who demand that the local film industry be more inclusive and a lot more noir. They are called the Black Filmmakers Film Festival (BFFF), and they’re a collective of innovative black filmmakers, producers and entrepreneurs who have a resolute and powerful mandate to build an empowering platform for filmmakers from across the continent and the diaspora. Their leadership is comprised of a diverse range of young creatives from across Africa, with a strong presence of queer black women.

The Black Filmmakers Film Festival team. Photo courtesy of The BFFF.

Their founder, DRC-born producer and director Simbi Nkula, describes his motivation for initiating the platform as twofold. The initiative was a response to his own experiences with xenophobia in South Africa. He built the BFFF around the belief that exposure to each other’s stories creates a sense of compassion for the shared experiences of African people. Secondly, Nkula experienced a lack of recognition for black talent in the industry.

Another founding member, Vux Zum, a producer, actor and director from Gugulethu, shares similar experiences. Zum recalls working on his first film, a German short, as a runner (assistant). “Being a runner was not enough for me. I was fascinated by the work of the 1st Assistant Director,” he mentions in an email. “Three weeks into the production I told the 1st AD that I want to do what he did. He laughed, patted me on the head and said something in German to his 2nd AD, who summoned me into his office saying that from that moment I would become the first Assistant Director’s trainee. Three months later I was employed as a 3rd AD and have continued to grow to within the industry since.”

However, not all black filmmakers get the “leg up” to climb the ladder. Zum soon noticed that in the film industry, it takes people of colour much longer to get into higher paying positions than their white counterparts. After trying to investigate why, he realised that besides stereotyping and racism, language can be a barrier leading to intimidation and lack of confidence. He explains that this leads to black professionals “staying in the comfort zone of being an assistant.”

The Black Filmmakers Film Festival has claimed the last Wednesday of every month as theirs. Their screenings have a signature sophisticated but relaxed look and feel and audience members can lounge around, sipping well-priced wine while gaining access to a program of carefully-curated African films.

Photo-journalist and BFFF employee Tania Pehl explains that the screenings have a growing audience largely comprised of young, black professionals interested in collaborations. “Screenings present a unique opportunity for black filmmakers to network with other industry professionals or people working in fields like fashion or media who want to get involved in the film industry,” Pehl tells me.

Still from BFFF board member Sarah Summers' short film, Gatvol

The collectives recognises that a focus on audience is key to growing the local industry. “South African films hardly get seen by the people who the films are about,” says director and BFFF board member Sarah Summers. She further explains that local filmmakers who want to tell home-grown stories are not met with great commercial success, leaving South African film professionals to make a living mostly out of their work on commercials and other international productions. “If we want to grow our own industry and not just become international service providers we need to invest in developing our audiences.”

The Black Filmmakers Film Festival have a vision for this, and with a branch currently operating in Port Elizabeth, the immediate plan is to go national. They're currently looking to set up branches in other major cities like Johannesburg and Durban.

Nkula is adamant that they breach the South African border and believes that the BFFF has the potential to promote black filmmaking as far and wide as possible. They've already started developing projects that take film out of the city. For the BFFF team, African film should be a community-oriented experience. Their upcoming event, Ndim Ndim ("This is me for real"), is a screening of a collection of short films by prolific Kenyan director Jim Chuchu, hosted in the homes of six families on the street where Zum grew up in Gugulethu.

Audiences from Cape Town are offered transport to the screenings and are also invited to a traditional chisa nyama (barbeque) hosted by the participating families. The unique nature of this event cannot be understated. Film platforms that are popular within the CBD rarely reach beyond spaces of privilege. Zum explains initiating the event after thinking about how the collective could use their skills to empower their communities. He describes pitching the idea to his neighbours, with the hopes that Ndim Ndim will give rise to further ideas on how communities can develop partnerships that stimulate creative entrepreneurship.

Furthermore, Chuchu’s films bravely express the narratives of LGBTQI people in Kenya facing sanctioned homophobia, persecution and violence. The BFFF felt that the content would stimulate urgent discussions to combat homophobia throughout Africa and the South African scourge of corrective rape.

Indeed, the future is bright for this inspiring collective of young, gifted and black filmmakers. If the revolution is not to be televised, perhaps it will be screened.

Kelly is a writer and performer who works in film and theatre. She is pushing for the insurgence of black, female narratives in the media. She also co-runs a Not for Profit company called FEMME.

Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Image

#EndSARS: 1 Year Later And It's Business As Usual For The Nigerian Government

Thousands filled the streets of Nigeria to remember those slain in The #LekkiTollGateMassacre...while the government insists it didn't happen.

This week marks 1 year since Nigerians began protests against police brutality and demanded an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The #EndSARS protests took the world by storm as we witnessed Nigerian forces abuse, harass and murder those fighting for a free nation. Reports of illegal detention, profiling, extortion, and extrajudicial killings followed the special task force's existence, forcing the government to demolish the unit on October 11th, 2020. However, protestors remained angered and desperate to be heard. It wasn't until October 20th, when soldiers opened fire on demonstrators at Lekki tollgate in the country's capital, Lagos, that the protests came to a fatal end. More than 56 deaths from across the country were reported, while hundreds more were traumatized as the Nigerian government continued to rule by force. The incident sparked global outrage as the Nigerian army refused to acknowledge or admit to firing shots at unarmed protesters in the dead of night.

It's a year later, and nothing has changed.

Young Nigerians claim to still face unnecessary and violent interactions with the police and none of the demands towards systemic changes have been met. Fisayo Soyombo the founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, told Al Jazeera, "Yes, there has not been any reform. Police brutality exists till today," while maintaining that his organization has reported "scores" of cases of police brutality over this past year.

During October 2020's protests, Nigerian authorities turned a blind eye and insisted that the youth-led movement was anti-government and intended to overthrow the administration of current President Muhammadu Buhari. During a press conference on Wednesday, in an attempt to discredit the protests, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed hailed the Nigerian army and police forces for the role they played in the #EndSARS protests, going as far as to say that the Lekki Toll Massacre was a "phantom massacre with no bodies." These brazen claims came while protesters continued to gather in several major cities across the country. The minister even went on to shame CNN, Nigerian favorite DJ Switch as well as Amnesty International, for reporting deaths at Lekki. Mohammed pushed even further by saying, "The six soldiers and 37 policemen who died during the EndSARS protests are human beings with families, even though the human rights organizations and CNN simply ignored their deaths, choosing instead to trumpet a phantom massacre."

With the reports of abuse still coming out of the West African nation, an end to the struggle is not in sight. During Wednesday's protest, a journalist for the Daily Post was detained by Nigerian forces while covering the demonstrations.

According to the BBC, additional police units have been set up in the place of SARS, though some resurfacing SARS officers and allies claim to still be around.

Young Nigerians relied heavily on social media during the protests and returned this year to voice their opinions around the first anniversary of an experience that few will be lucky enough to forget.

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