WORD TO THE WOMAN
three women on their passion products
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