WORD TO THE WOMAN

three women on their pas­sion prod­ucts

Elle (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

Ibe­lieve that film has the power to change the world by in­flu­enc­ing our emo­tions. In this way, it im­pacts our per­spec­tive of the world and how we re­late to it. Sto­ries have al­ways been a vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ence for me and I think that’s why be­ing able to share them through film is what I’ve al­ways grav­i­tated to. Film is a com­bi­na­tion of every­thing I love. There’s noth­ing more pow­er­ful to me than com­bin­ing vi­su­als, sound and story to move the heart and soul of a hu­man be­ing and re­mind us of the con­nect­ing threads that run deeply through us. I started be­com­ing drawn to film pho­tog­ra­phy when I was given my first ana­logue cam­era at around the age of 14. There’s some­thing ex­hil­a­rat­ing about con­trol­ling the com­po­si­tion of a shot, deciding what part of your ex­pe­ri­ence of the world to fo­cus on and then shar­ing that with oth­ers. I be­gan tak­ing pho­to­graphs more in­ten­tion­ally when I was 15 and that was when I de­vel­oped a gen­uine de­sire to make films. I’m greatly in­spired by Ira­nian film­maker Ab­bas Kiarostami. Af­ter watch­ing Taste of Cherry, my un­der­stand­ing of the pur­pose and po­tency of cinema and story-telling changed. Con­tem­po­rary greats like Maya Mat­soukas and Kahlil Joseph are other sources of in­spi­ra­tion. How­ever, I owe most of my suc­cess to my fam­ily and grow­ing up in South Africa as a Bahá’í. I was deeply moved by the sto­ries my fam­ily from Iran would share with me about their day-to-day ex­pe­ri­ences and I’ve al­ways felt a strong urge to share them – it’s a feel­ing of: ‘The whole world needs to hear and learn from this!’ I grew up in en­vi­ron­ments where unity in di­ver­sity was ex­em­pli­fied, cel­e­brated and nor­malised and that foun­da­tion has con­stantly in­spired me. I’m very pas­sion­ate about the sto­ries our coun­try hasn’t yet brought to light. It seems we have a lot of heal­ing to do through story-telling and I hope I can con­trib­ute to that process in some way. My great­est achieve­ment so far has been in­de­pen­dently writ­ing, di­rect­ing and pro­duc­ing a film that’s gone on to move peo­ple. My un­cer­tain, 18-year-old self would never have be­lieved that Skin Diver would re­duce au­di­ences to tears. It was a con­fir­ma­tion that I should con­tinue along this path. I al­ways re­fer to Skin Diver as an ‘ode to the ten­der­hearted’. It was my in­ten­tion to raise ques­tions about be­com­ing com­fort­able with the unique path you’re on and the pace at which you’re mov­ing, rather than try­ing to fit your­self into a stan­dard­ised mould of what and where you ‘should be’. This was some­thing I grap­pled with in my early years and I no­ticed many peo­ple around me strug­gling with the same things. I hope Skin Diver can con­tinue send­ing a mes­sage of hav­ing pa­tience with one­self. As a young fe­male film­maker in an of­ten male-dom­i­nated field, I have to fo­cus on the women (and men) who are break­ing away from the cul­ture of the past and re­defin­ing what it means to work to­gether. To me, that means hon­our­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity to cre­ate mean­ing­ful work and al­ways en­sur­ing that it speaks the loud­est – es­pe­cially for those who can’t speak at all. The best ad­vice I’ve ever been given was to speak the truth, even if your voice shakes. And to fin­ish what you start. Skin Diver has been selected to screen at the Cannes Short Film Fes­ti­val, the Jozi Film Fes­ti­val and the Cape Town In­ter­na­tional Film Mar­ket & Fes­ti­val.

Where did your pas­sion for writ­ing be­gin? I grew up in a vil­lage called Moru­leng, partly raised by my (pa­ter­nal) late great-aunt Moloko Pi­lane, who con­tin­ues to be an in­spi­ra­tion for me. She was what I call a ‘badly-be­haved’ woman who al­ways let me be my­self. For a long time, be­ing a laat­lam­metjie, I felt dis­con­nected from my sib­lings and par­ents be­cause of the gen­er­a­tion gap, so I found so­lace in read­ing and writ­ing. I mostly wrote poems, ini­tially about a make-be­lieve world I’d made up and wished I ex­isted in. My mother’s a lover of mag­a­zines and when there were no books to read, I’d read her old is­sues. My friends and I would page through these mag­a­zines and pick the things we most de­sired and the peo­ple we wanted to be. Sundays were also a rit­ual read­ing time for my fam­ily. My fa­ther would buy news­pa­pers on our way back from church. Af­ter lunch, he’d read the po­lit­i­cal sec­tions, my mother would read the en­ter­tain­ment news and I’d grab the mag­a­zine in­serts.

When did you start con­sid­er­ing a ca­reer in jour­nal­ism? I never saw my­self as a jour­nal­ist un­til I ac­tu­ally be­came one. I dropped out of my sec­ond year of a chem­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing univer­sity course and then un­der­went psy­cho­me­t­ric test­ing be­cause I was con­fused about what to do. The test re­vealed that my per­son­al­ity was more suited to the me­dia and the arts. I ended up en­rolling for a gen­eral BA and started writ­ing for the Me­dia Stud­ies Depart­ment’s on­line mag­a­zine. I was al­ways in­ter­ested in health is­sues, as they af­fect ev­ery facet of our lives: po­lit­i­cal, so­cial, eco­nomic, emo­tional and so­cial.

How do you feel now about the first ar­ti­cle you wrote and what would you do dif­fer­ently if you had to do it again? Cringe! I’d do more re­search and in­ter­view more ex­perts to make the story stronger.

What’s been the most mem­o­rable story you’ve cov­ered? I was still a stu­dent at Wits Univer­sity and work­ing for The Daily Vox. Liv­ing in Braam­fontein at the time, I of­ten saw how mis­treated home­less peo­ple were. I pitched a story to my edi­tors about these peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ences.

What’s your writ­ing rit­ual? The first thing I do is tran­scribe ev­ery in­ter­view I’ve done word for word – a trick I learnt from my edi­tor at the Bhek­i­sisa Cen­tre for Health Jour­nal­ism. Then I do a mind map and out­line of the story. Only then do I be­gin writ­ing the piece.

What’s been your big­gest ca­reer achieve­ment? Win­ning the Dis­cov­ery Health Jour­nal­ist of the Year award re­cently. I was go­ing through a slump, feel­ing un­sure about my ca­reer and ques­tion­ing whether I’m a good writer. The award came just at the right time – it was very af­firm­ing. I was also blown away to have won it only two years into my health jour­nal­ism ca­reer.

What’s the most re­ward­ing as­pect of your job? When the peo­ple I in­ter­view give me feed­back about the sto­ries I’ve writ­ten about them. One woman, Ausi Malebina – the mother of an autis­tic boy – cried when she read the story and saw the pho­tos in the news­pa­per. I cried when she cried. That mo­ment re­minded me of why I love writ­ing.

What would you like to be re­mem­bered for? Writ­ing peo­ple’s his­to­ries, as well as my own. I want to hu­man­ise ev­ery as­pect of our ex­pe­ri­ences – the good, the bad and the ugly.

My friends and I would page through these mag­a­zines and pick the things we most de­sired and the peo­ple we wanted to be

My story: KATYA ABEDIAN Tal­ented and wise be­yond her years, Katya, an in­de­pen­dent film­maker, shares her love for sto­ry­telling and tells us about the suc­cess of her first film

Ca­reer moves: PONTSHO PI­LANE Pontsho is an award-win­ning health jour­nal­ist and a se­nior writer for Health-e.She pre­vi­ously worked at Bhek­i­sisa, the Mail &Guardian’s health jour­nal­ism cen­tre and at the Daily Vox, where she re­ported on a range of of in-depth so­ci­etal is­sues

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