No One’s Pissing on their Parade

Words: Chelsea Haith
Images: Screenshots of Territorial Pissings
Indie film makers take to the streets of Braamies to film based-on-life feature film

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What does an upper-middle class black kid from Sandton, with no tertiary education and a burning desire to tell his stories do when confronted by loss and grief? Make a feature film. Gathering together a group of young film makers fresh out of AFDA, Sibs Shongwe-La Mer and his crew, all under the age of 25, are taking to the streets of Johannesburg in June and July 2014 to portray Joburg youths’ experiences of drug abuse, sexuality, mental illness and growing up in the post-Apartheid South Africa. 

Urucu Media will be working in partnership with the team to pair seasoned professionals with the industry newbies. Shongwe-La Mer and the entire directing department is being mentored by John Trengove, Elias Ribeiro and Gideon Fuerst from Media Film Services to name a few industry heavyweights. Filming will take place in Braamfontein and in the Joburg CBD over a 17 day period.

Territorial Pissings, the low-fi contemporary existentialist short film that started Shongwe-La Mer down this road, showed at the 70th Venice Film Festival Final Cut workshop in 2013. “That put the film on the map in a way none of us ever expected,” Shongwe-La Mer said.

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Shongwe-La Mer’s style captures the essence of the inner city environment and he pulls no punches, the honesty of each frame both brutal and beautiful. The film plot follows a group of young adults who grew up in the Northern suburbs of Johannesburg and examines how they react to the suicide of one of their close friends through vignettes focusing on each character. The choice of film title was influenced by the song by Nirvana (who better to capture the angst of young adulthood?) but the content of the film is not.

“We want to explore what drives a young person who comes from money and privilege to commit suicide,” said Nicole Kitt, Associate Producer on the film.

Based on true events, many of the characters in the film are representations of people in Shongwe-La Mer’s life and are played in some cases by the actors who experienced the film’s events in their own lives Kitt explained. “Everyone wants to have their story told,” she said. For some of the crew members this is their first professional gig outside of the academic space. “This is a group of young and hungry people,” Kitt said.

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South African Film production company Urucu Media is producing the film. Producer Elias Ribeiro sees great promise in the young film maker. “As soon as I looked at the footage I immediately committed to the project,” Ribeiro said, adding that it is Urucu Media’s “mandate to foster new voices”. The film’s genesis is in the conflict Shongwe-La Mer finds in his own life as a young middle-class South African youth.

“What does it mean to be an African when you’re from Sandton, go to an upper-middle class school and eat McDonald’s?” he asked.  “This film is about how kids identify themselves, and the South African geography, it divides people in these socio-political spaces. You grow up in this suburban hyper-Eurocentric environment and you have to ask, who am I?”

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The 22-year old has been working on photographic and film projects since he was 15 and said that his lack of a formal tertiary education allows him to “paint with broader strokes” because he has not been limited by an institutional structured approach to film. Shongwe La-Mer is making the transition from photography, his original medium, to film. Although he still loves photography, he feels that it was time he “started shooting 24 frames a second instead of just one”.

The feature is currently in pre-production and is a black and white film, a decision that Shongwe-La Mer has stood behind for aesthetic reasons. “People have asked ‘Why make a contemporary youth culture film in a cinematic palate that is outdated?’ As a lover of that old cinema and the mysticism I feel that the African context manifests itself in the mysticism in the grand language of old film,” he said. An old soul, Shongwe-La Mer is working towards a new place in the film-making industry.

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“African cinema is in its infancy. We don’t need to be regimenting ourselves. We can make the new trends. Cinema has a tendency to take itself too seriously. We’re taking back the screen,” he said. Shongwe-La Mer has only two mandates for the film: “I want it to be a great piece of art and I want to tell a story.” The film is still in need of funding for the post-production which will take place in August this year though sufficient funds have been secured for the filming in June and July.

The film has been now selected for Locarno Open Doors, a co-production workshop in Switzerland where the team are up for a €40 000 cash award and will be seeking post production and international distribution partnerships.

The film is expected to be completed in time for submission to Sundance and the Berlin Film Festivals.