South African Filmmaker Carmen Sangion Unpacks Her Short Film 'Uncertainty'
Uncertainty, a film about a couple's emotional battles during lockdown, forms part of the global nine-chapter anthology project titled One(Nine).
During the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, nine filmmakers isolating in various parts of the world came together for a collective experiment. The global team of female filmmakers worked on short films which formed part of the anthology One(Nine), a nine-chapter project of perspectives and experiences — real, unreal, fiction, non-fiction and everything in between.
The team included Canada's Ingrid Veninger, Mina Shum, Isa Benn and Slater Jewell-Kemker, as well as Dorothee Wenner (Germany), Shengze Zhu (China/USA), Carmen Sangion (South Africa) and Lydia Zimmermann (Spain). One(Nine) premiered digitally at Canada's Female Eye Film Festival that ran from March 12to 29.
For this piece, South Africa's Carmen Sangion dissects Uncertainty, a film which interrogates Black men's vulnerability and mental health struggles through the lens of one couple's relationship battles during lockdown.
An intimate scene from Carmen Sangion's film Uncertainty. Supplied
How did you get involved in the One(Nine) project?
Eight days before South Africa went into lockdown, I received a message from Ingrid Hamilton, who championed the project, asking if I would like to get involved. There was anxiety and frenzy, in the air, as people were panic-buying in the lead up to South Africa's lockdown. I wanted to shift my mind from that, plus my own anxiety was escalating from watching the news and seeing what was going on. Everything has been a discovery — we had a lot of creative freedom as there was no fixed master plan. That's the beauty of this project!
What was your motivation for telling this particular story?
Uncertainty is about a happy couple finding themselves in lockdown then everything suddenly becoming difficult between the two of them. I have my own issues with anxiety, depression and other mental health struggles. I've been on my own healing journey for the past 20 odd years. On my own journey to healing, I find some White men and women and lots of Black women, but I rarely ever find any Black men talking about their struggles on such issues. In my own relationships with the men in my life, starting with my father, I have seen how mental health issues are such an important part of how we engage with other human beings. I had made films where I interrogated these issues through other women, but now wanted to narrate the story through the eyes of men. I started seeing a lot of Black men showing vulnerability on social media, and this was also around the time that George Floyd was killed. I saw Black men talking about how difficult it was to be a Black man in this world. At the same time, I was having issues with my own relationships with Black men. Around this time in South Africa, Gender Based Violence (GBV) numbers were on the rise — I was feeling really overwhelmed at this point! A pregnant woman was killed and hung on a tree — she was 9 months pregnant! It was a dark and devastating time.
I found myself feeling so angry at Black men and had to take a step back from social media to interrogate my belief systems around Black men, and how they view us as Black women as well as their interactions with us. I tried putting myself in their shoes. I felt that this was a good place to heal my issues where Black men were concerned. I wondered, 'what does it feel like right now to be going through all this as a Black man?' No one talks about Black men's mental health issues. The history is so complex. I am thinking of further developing Uncertainty into a feature film.
Some of the lines from the film include the male character saying, "My father never came to the table, he was never home!" "I am a Black man in Joburg [I have to be strong]", "I punish myself for not protecting you." The issue of men, vulnerability and mental health struggles was key in your film. Tell us more about this.
The male character, played by Hungani Ndlovu, started an organisation that helps Black men deal with their mental health. His organisation allows them to talk about their issues, vulnerabilities, weaknesses and many others resonant themes. I had this idea of this couple in a house that was suffering because of the man's health issues. I had a conversation with the poet that wrote the poetry for the film and came up with these questions: 'What is this construct of masculinity? What does it mean to be a man? How does it contribute to the betterment of society?'
I believe the world is falling apart because of toxic masculinity. I think there are a lot of positives to masculine energy, but right now there is so much negativity in it. A man is still human — he has emotions and weaknesses. Why are we as women allowed to cry and feel weak and they can't? Why are they meant to provide and can't be provided for? The world is really broken.
One of the things I love about young people today is their deconstruction of gender narratives. Wouldn't it be good if we all just called ourselves they? Then we wouldn't have these limitations that gender places on both sexes. We could be freed to be the souls that we came here to be.
Uncertainty interrogates Black men's mental health struggles through the story of a couple under lockdown.Supplied
How has Uncertainty been received?
The premiere was in Canada and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
Where can people watch the film?
At the moment it's through festivals – there is no distribution deal yet.
What project are you working on next?
I am working on a feature film called Push, which tackles the aftermath of rape. It's about a young woman who, through boxing, finds the strength to confront her rapist and reclaim what the rape took from her life.