IkamvaYouth has always recognised the importance of creative expression through media; the Media, Image & Expression (MIE) programme was first established at the Makhaza branch in 2006. Over the years, we’ve seen our learners build their identities and self-confidence through various projects and forms of media; from photography and poetry to developing documentaries with mobile phones.
This year, through a partnership with Reel Lives, MIE was taken to a whole new level at Makhaza and Nyanga. Lyle and Leah came all the way from New York City only three months ago, and during this time have worked intensively with six learners to produce amazing films.
It was at the pitch event that we first really realised what they’ve been up to. We weren’t quite expecting such deeply personal stories, and we were concerned for our learners and their families about the levels of disclosure. The small audience of IY staff, partners and filmmakers had the opportunity to engage with the learners. It was remarkable to hear about the positive shifts this process has enabled, and it was humbling to witness the learners’ confident resolve and willingness to share their stories with the world. Kuhle explained that having the opportunity to interview family members and film them with this expensive equipment in his house, gave him the opportunity to be taken seriously and to have conversations he’d been waiting for. The camera was described as both a weapon and a shield.
Through their films, our learners faced their greatest fears and tackled their most difficult issues. Nkosazana shares the story of her family, affected by school drop-outs, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism and financial challenges. Ambesa works through issues of abandonment, family secrets and disappointments in her transformational film entitled Ndikuxolele (Forgiveness). In Xola (Peace), Mpumi re-connects with her absent father and rebuilds their relationship and Zintle shares her deepest fears for her safety in There Is No Safe Place. Sinobom confronts her mother when she discovers that she and her sister have different fathers in Mntasekhaya (My Mother’s Child), and in A Closet in Makhaza, Kuhle tells his family that he is gay. Click on the filmmakers’ names and watch their films!
Reel Lives engaged extensively with the learners and their families about which issues to include in the final films and the implications and potential consequences of screening them and uploading them online.
Nevertheless, in the leadup to the premiere we were anxious. On the 24th November, ikamvanites, family members and friends filled the generously availed Labia theatre to watch the films. For many, it was the first visit to the cinema and there was a lot of excitement. The start was a little rocky, with chattering, giggles and popcorn, but as we moved through the films, one could feel the audience shifting and becoming increasingly captivated. Kuhle’s film was the last screened, and the tension from those of us who knew what was coming was palpable. What a way to come out when one comes from a community where homophobia is the norm, and being openly gay puts your safety at risk!
And yet we needn’t have worried. The ikamvanites in the audience went wild with applause, and were then offered an opportunity to speak to the filmmakers who were standing up front. The feedback was powerfully affirming:
“You are our heroes. You guys have such guts. Thank you for being our leaders and our role-models; we are so proud of you. We love you.” IY tutor
Every person in the cinema that day was touched and impressed.
“The day was totally inspirational, a little heartbreaking, and totally amazing. It was one of the most moving I have ever experienced” IY WC district coordinator
“The films were mind blowing, all very touching and so important for healing in our country” Richard Mills, director of Street Talk
Reel Lives’ work is transformational on multiple levels. Our learners have developed impressive skills and experience, by carrying out every phase of the filmmaking process themselves; from story development and filming to editing and subtitling. The high-end professional equipment and software they’ve learned to use not only ensures that the films are gorgeous (what a treat to see them on the big screen!), but that our learners are well-positioned to access scholarships for film school or internships in the film industry.
Our learners’ lives have changed through the process of asking big questions, engaging with their families and tackling their greatest fears and difficulties. The positive shifts in learners’ self-confidence, self-expression and relationships that have taken place over the past months are phenomenal. They’ve re-connected with estranged family members, moved from anger to forgiveness and peace, and bodly declared who they are.
Most transformational of all, however, is the impact these films have on the people who see them. For young people to see films made by their peers, about their communities and the issues that affect their lives is a great opportunity. These brave, open-hearted films will challenge and inspire everyone who sees them. Already, Kuhle has been approached by young gay men who’ve now seen that coming out can lead to community acceptance, support, admiration and celebration.
The transformational impact of these films extends from the filmmakers’ individual experiences to those of their audiences. We’re looking forward to Reel Lives making more films with more ikamvanites at more branches, and to screening these films for massive audiences across the country and the world.
IkamvaYouth sends out a big shout out of thanks and love to the filmmakers and Reel Lives for doing such beautiful work.