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Sihle Hlophe: The film industry still largely sexist, and at times racist

[bctt tweet=”Sihle Hlope chooses the stories that she wants to tell through her communications business” username=”SheLeadsAfrica”] In a modern world of film, deeply ingrained and out-dated sexist misconceptions are still stamped on film scripts and video cameras. It wouldn’t be a truthful to say the women working behind the scenes of some great productions, worked with smiles on their faces from beginning to end. In South Africa, there are some really talented women directors who do not get enough recognition. Sihle Hlophe is a rising 30-year-old film director who is challenging the ingrained sexism of the industry through storytelling. Sihle has openly spoken about sexism in film. She is a holder of the current ICA fellowship and the chairperson of Writer’s Guild of South Africa. Journalist, Khethiwe Mndawe got to interview Sihle for SLA while she was in London for the Screenwriters’ Festival with the Writers’ Guild of South Africa. Briefly describe how running your own business in the film and production industry has been for you as a young black woman. I started my company, Passion Seeds Communications in order to promote minority languages and make a contribution towards the alleviation of youth unemployment. I also wanted to give a platform to marginalized female technicians such as cinematographers, editors and sound recordists. Although the journey has been rocky, it has also been very fulfilling. The biggest challenge is the difficulty in accessing funding for films. However, the government has progressive incentives in place to help young entrepreneurs. Another challenge is that the industry is still largely sexist, and at times racist. One has to be persistent; knocking on doors and getting rejected repeatedly is not for the faint-hearted. The best part about owning my own production company is creating jobs, training young people and of course, getting to choose the stories that I want to tell. Which film production projects have you done that closely targets stories related to Mpumalanga or the neighbouring borders, eg, Swaziland? Both of my short films are SiSwati films. You can see some of them on my Twitter page. I have not had the opportunity to shoot in Mpumalanga. This is due to lack of support from the province, even though both my films are ‘set’ in Mpumalanga. I shoot in Gauteng because that is where I get support. I must mention though that I was deeply touched when the Department of Arts & Culture recognized my work by presenting me with a ‘Best SiSwati Film’ award at the Mpumalanga Provincial Arts & Sports Awards in 2015; I just wish that support would extend to actual productions. Also, I did a short documentary a few years ago based in Swaziland. Its topic is related to the reed dance of virgin girls. [bctt tweet=”One has to be persistent in face of the challenges in the film production industry” username=”SheLeadsAfrica”] Which countries abroad have you visited and what were you representing there? My film ‘As I Am’ has been screened at prestigious film festivals in the USA, Switzerland, Tanzania and here in South Africa. With support from the Department of Trade & Industry, my company Passion Seed Communications has been to film festivals and markets in France, the Netherlands, the USA, England, Germany and Canada. I was also an exchange student in Helsinki, Finland during my final year as a film student at Wits University. Other countries I have visited include Brazil, Kenya, Lesotho, Poland, Estonia, Holland, Swaziland and Botswana. I would like to visit Asia next. What unique experiences did you come across in these countries? I have experienced many unique things in many different countries. One of my greatest experiences as a filmmaker is when I am afforded the opportunity to share my story with people from different walks of life. To see that story resonate with those people is the most powerful thing a storyteller can experience. [bctt tweet=”@NubianStorytela’s films have been screened at prestigious film festivals in different countries” username=”SheLeadsAfrica”] What changes would you like to see in the industry when it comes to opportunities for African women directors? There are some really talented women directors who do not get any work or recognition because of deeply ingrained and outdated sexist misconceptions. It’s truly sad. Some directors are also subjected to sexism and sexual harassment. I would like to see this change! Enough is enough. I would also like to see the government of Mpumalanga investing in its talent and supporting filmmakers like other provinces do. I have more chances of getting support from the Durban Film Commission than I do in my own home province. For me, that is a tragic situation. What have been you greatest achievements so far? Finishing my Masters degree under very trying circumstances and writing and directing two SiSwati films. I am an advocate of minority languages. In fact, the title of my Masters paper was, “The Underrepresentation of Minority Languages on SABC 1: The case of SiSwati“. I have been passionate about promoting my mother tongue for as long as I can remember. You were recently granted the ICA fellowship, congratulations! What is it about? I was one of the fellows chosen by The Institute for Creative Arts (ICA) for 2016. The opportunity is awarded to creative thinkers and doers in diverse disciplines. ICA fellowships encourages collaborative dialogue around issues of urbanism, community, historical legacy and the postcolonial imaginary. Fellows are encouraged to test boundaries, engage with new publics, and to explore the critical potentialities of live art. The ICA is particularly excited about the diverse contributions and imaginative ways of thinking presented by this year’s fellows –from performative writing, dance and music, to art, curatorship and interdisciplinary research. Conversations, exhibitions and public interventions presented by fellows will be announced in due course. Tell us briefly about “Nomfundo”? “Nomfundo” is a short film about a conflicted, young woman whose life is irrevocably changed when she has a transcendental encounter with someone from her past. The film is currently in post-production. It is my second

Jinna Mutune: Girls need to be told that they can have it all

jinna mutune she leads africa

[bctt tweet=”I have lived long enough in Africa to be able to tell an African story in an African way” username=”SheLeadsAfrica”] Dreams and making them come true; this seems to be the running theme with this film-maker, Jinna Mutune whose feature film LEO was well received by international audiences in twelve global cities.  SLA contributor Juliet had the great pleasure of visiting Jinna at the Pegg Entertainment offices in Karen Country Lodge within the leafy suburbs of Karen, Nairobi.  Amidst a couple of monkeys doing monkey business on the office rooftop and peering into their interview through the glass windows, they managed to have a great chat. When did you figure out that you wanted to do film? I actually always wanted to do it, I just didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t know it had a name. There was a creative space in our home that allowed me to explore a lot. When I was 12, my first mentor —who was a student pastor— used a lot of art and creativity to teach the Bible and that really inspired me. So I did a lot of plays in school and carols in church. At 15, I got to a place where I needed to know what my purpose was and was stirred up by my faith. The most defining moment though was when I met my mentor; that really opened my mind to what I wanted to do. Dream Dare Believe. How do those three words speak to you personally? That you should dream, I think it’s time to encourage the African children to dream out-of-the-box dreams, of becoming astronauts and scientists, things that are not on our regular spectrum. Daring comes with doing, going after the dream making plans with people. Trying and failing and trying again until it works. Then, believing means hanging on to it until it comes to pass. The only problem when we talk about dreaming in this generation, is that people want it to happen in a flash. The whole idea of believing is the consistency, I knew this at 16 when I wrote the plan of how I was going to be a film-maker. I thought I was going to make a feature every year; more than 17 years later though I have only done one feature and working on my second. [bctt tweet=”I think it’s time to encourage the African children to dream out-of-the-box dreams” username=”SheLeadsAfrica”] There’s always a bit of a time lag between the dreaming and the coming true, what do you advice dreamers out there to do during that time lag? I’d encourage people to start small; I personally started with small plays. You can always tell a great person by what they do with the little resources they have. Many times I meet young people who say that they want to do big things but don’t know where to start. Start from where you are and do it to your level best because you never know who is in your audience. Maximise the small opportunities, I did a lot of plays when I was starting out. When I was getting the movie to screen in 12 global cities, most of these cities are the same ones where I did the small plays. Faith has also been everything in this journey, I have relied on it, it has been my inspiration and it’s how I charge up half the time. Is there any point when you thought your dream was crashing before your eyes? How did you pick yourself up again? There have been many; let me talk about distribution though. When we did LEO, we didn’t have a marketing budget. We thought we’d be acquired by one of the major distribution channels, but the deal didn’t pull through. So here I was with a product and no money to let people know about it and I really wanted to give up. It was really tough because I found that there was a lack of understanding from the masses about the work I did. There was a lot of criticism and very little support and I wondered why? Why did I need to move forward? I used a lot of inspiration and scriptures that I call ‘muffins’ to keep me running. One was a visual of a man running through a wall, and every time I looked at it I told myself ‘something has got to give’, ‘something has got to happen’. So, I started speaking more and got radical about it until I finally got a lead to get the movie into the air-planes. [bctt tweet=”The thing that this journey has taught me is that there is nothing like impossible.” username=”SheLeadsAfrica”] Out of the blue, an old friend called me from Houston and wanted to screen the movie there. Soon after that the cinemas opened up. The thing that this journey has taught me is that there is nothing like impossible. I think it’s Einstein who said ”… it’s not that I am a genius, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” That’s why I find the culture of instant success amongst our young people a bit scary because I feel like we are going to lose our genius minds. Our genius minds need to develop the character of staying-in until it works. You’ve talked a bit on money matters when it came to distribution tell us more about talk about getting funding. Money follows good ideas, one of my mentors said to me and I thought it was mind boggling. I always thought you get the money and then get ideas to use the money. But now, if I have an idea and I’m not getting money then I go back to the drawing board and ask myself how I can improve this idea so that it attracts the money people. [bctt tweet=”Money follows good ideas, one of my mentors said to me…” username=”SheLeadsAfrica”] LEO the movie went through about 20 drafts before the shooting begun. So there’s always a way in which you can improve your product. One door may close but they will leave you with ideas on how you can tweak your product to make it more sellable. I never feel like any of my meetings are quite wasted even if I don’t get the deal that I am looking for. It somehow adds up to something or they give me an idea that helps me move in the right direction. Does where you live geographically affect the filmmaking process? Hollywood has systems. There, film-making is an art and a job, if you are talented, you can find your way into the system. There’s a system with compensation in every stage which motivates film makers. There are also things like 3D studios, trained actors, trained animals, period wardrobes etc. These things help you create your story and your imagination canvas as a director becomes wide. From creation to consumption there are systems that acknowledge the work and a willingness to pay for the work. Locally, my advantage is that it’s never been done before. In the West for a young independent film maker, it can be very difficult to access the system. But here I can talk to anyone for things like location and negotiate on rates and because it’s an African story its best told in African soil. I have lived long enough in Africa to be able to tell an African story in an African way and that’s a huge advantage. Have you experienced any challenges in your journey as a filmmaker being a woman? I don’t think I have ever gone into the