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It’s been Reel: Local talent thrives at Recovery Film Fest

It’s been Reel: Local talent thrives at Recovery Film Fest

In addition to screening a number of international films about addiction and recovery, the Cape Town Recovery Film Festival is also a platform for some local filmmakers. Here are three of the young talents being dished up, with a little help from friends in New York. By MARELISE VAN DER MERWE.

A young boy suffers the unbearable loss of his sister and develops an addiction to tik. Another finds that music helps him draw the map back to the land of the living. A single mum with three small children develops a crippling dependence on gambling and has to claw her way out.

As a young girl, my life was on track,” says Siphokazi Mbuti, director of Umdovolo – The Gamble. “I had a strong family and I was going to school. As many of us do, when I got to high school I started hanging out with the wrong crowd. I met a man and starting gambling with my life, both in theory and in practice. I started having children, dropped out of school, and became addicted to a local street game called ‘Calling Cards’. My life unravelled.”

For Jascey-Lee van Zyl, the path was also rough. “My film is about how music saved my life,” he says. “I was becoming an extremely violent young man, and I have the scars to prove it. I was a drug addict, using tik almost every day, and spiralling down.

Misery loves company, and I surrounded myself with people on the same path. In 2012, we started making music, and everything changed.”

For Dylan Williams, it was grief that drove him. “The night the fire burned a hole through my life everything changed,” says Williams, director of Through the Smoke. “But the loss of my sister lit a flame in me as well, and her memory has inspired me to get my life back together and move on as she would want. The film uses fire as a metaphor for destruction and life, as me and my family tell our story.”

These three stories made their way onto the screen with the help of Reel Lives, a New York-based organisation that uses media to support empowerment, education and social change. Each Reel Lives’ participant shoots and edits a short documentary film around a personal, human-rights-related narrative. In 2012, Reel Lives piloted their first international project in Cape Town, working with six young people from Makhaza and Nyanga.

Daily Maverick spoke to the founder and director, Lyle Kane, about the three films showing at the Cape Town Recovery Film Festival.

Please tell me a bit about the South African films screened. Why are they important viewing?

Dylan Williams’ film, Through the Smoke, followed the story of how his sister died in a fire, and how that affected the family. Dylan’s trauma led him to develop an addiction to tik, to escape the pain of his loss, and it was the memory of his sister that brought him back from addiction.

Jascey-Lee van Zyl’s film, From the Basement, is about how Jascey got lost in a world of drug abuse, how his addiction affected his family, and how he used music as a tool to recovery.

Siphokazi Mbuti’s film, Umdovolo, tells the story of how Siphokazi went from being a young woman on track for success, with a stable and supportive family, to being addicted to gambling as a single parent with three young children at a very young age, and her struggles to get her life together.

I think these films are really important for a number of reasons. I believe that people connect to issues through individual narratives. It’s hard to connect to social issues like “drug abuse” as a concept, but very easy to empathise with someone who is struggling with drug abuse, and connect to, and be moved by, their story.

It’s important for there to be films about social issues to be created by people who are facing these issues in their own lives, getting more authentic narratives about what the experiences and challenges are. Creating authentic narratives of what it’s like to face these issues can allow people to understand them better, and inform intervention projects. Also, it’s important for other people facing similar challenges to see these films, and understand they are not alone.

Why was it important to your organisation to work with these filmmakers?

The legacy of Apartheid, and the struggles of marginalised communities in post-Apartheid South Africa to step out of the shadow of poverty, has created a generation of South Africans with deep psychosocial scars, and a seemingly insurmountable set of obstacles to broad social and economic development. They are popularly referred to as “The Born Free Generation”, but there are nearly three million marginalised youth in South Africa between the ages of 16 and 25 who are out of work and school. What Reel Lives does is both develop hard skills for employment in the growing South African media sector, while giving them an opportunity to transform the way they see themselves, from “victims” of their circumstances to champions of their own causes.

Dylan Williams was 19 when he started with Reel Lives (he’s 20 now) from Grassy Park. He was very quiet, and perhaps a little immature. Watching how quickly he took to the technical skills, and how he’s grown into a young man while going through this process, has been amazing.

Jascey-Lee van Zyl came to Reel Lives having only been in recovery from being a daily tik user for a few weeks. He came in with a pretty big (and slightly irrational) ego. Watching him get a grip on his recovery, and get some perspective on his own life, has been great to watch over the last six months.

Siphokazi Mbuti worked with Reel Lives in 2013. She really struggled with all the responsibilities she has, between her kids, her father being ill, and trying to manage keeping up with the rapid pace of the course, but she managed to get her film completed, and wants to continue with a career in media.

Tell me a bit about the Peer Mentorship Initiative [an initiative which allows mentees to chat via Skype to their Reel Lives mentors on a regular basis]. The program emphasises cross-cultural dialogue. What have been some of the more surprising or interesting outcomes here?

What we did was set up weekly sessions between our youth in New York City, and our students here in Cape Town. What came out of that were some really powerful relationships, and an understanding that we are all facing the same challenges. Really it is just the logistics of these challenges that are different.

Does Reel Lives have any upcoming projects in South Africa that our local readers should know about?

We have a premiere of five films coming up in the next few weeks, and will be putting a call out for new applicants, in partnership with The Department of Social Development and their Youth Cafe initiative, in November. Keep an eye on our website at DM

You can watch Through the Smoke, From the Basement and Umdovolo at the Cape Town Recovery Film Festival.


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