….under the night sky….
You will be forgiven to assume that films produced by the Eat My Dust project are an answer to, or a parody to the wide berth -lip- service politicians have paid to the community living in one of Soweto’s oldest township settlements: Kliptown since the new democratic government took power in 1994.
Kliptown is historically significant for South Africa’s political trajectory. In 1955 it drew activist from across the four corners of South Africa onto a gravel football field to pen a document which is now the bed rock of; the corner-stone of the country’s constitution and the bill of rights – that document is known as the Freedom Charter. Why? Because across the railway tracks, Kliptown residents still live in conditions very similar, if not worse that those of the 1950s. Residents still use communal toilets, there’s still no electricity or improved housing. Despite numerous pleas from communities for roads, water and sanitation services, progress has been slow, bar from the Multi-million rand Freedom Square with a 3 star hotel across the tracks.
But Eat My Dust is not-about- that really, it is an idea that lives because a French Movie Director Delphine de Blic met the community back in January 2011 and decided she wanted to do something. That something turned into a film school for the active and eager youth of Kliptown. “The project started two year’s ago, when I arrived in South Africa and I met the community of Kliptown. I wanted to do something, so since I am a film director, I decided to teach them how to make movies I wanted to teach them the basics of film making quickly, and make it as fun and interactive as possible” She tells me outside the Bioscope in Johannesburgs’ Maboneng district where they were screening some of the films produced by Eat My Dust as part of the French Season in South Africa 2012/1213 initiative. “They didn’t know very much about cinema, there’s no electricity and they can’t go to a cinema so they were virgins. My idea was to teach them about movies, starting from the founding fathers of film, including Charlie Chaplin amongst others, so they started to act; they start to handle the camera and booms etc, to direct just like that.”
Since then they have hosted monthly screenings of the films produced from interactive classroom lessons – outside – under the night sky.
The movie-making project is quite fitting for Kliptown as it is the location of Soweto’s firs ever cinema – the Sans Souci Bioscope – set up in the 1950’s. The cinema was an integral part of life in the neighbourhood until the building was destroyed by a fire in 1994.
In the two years since de Blic launched the project, Eat My Dust has given birth to a popular character named SUPER-CONDOM. “All these themes began from a very bad thing actually; you know when you make a project in Africa the only way to get funding is to talk about HIV and AIDS, which is terrible I think. So we looked into that and invited researchers and experts in the field to talk to the children about the disease, how it works, how the virus is transmitted. So very quickly we started a campaign which focused on discrimination, encouraging people to condomise and get tested, then the character SUPER-CONDOM sprung from that ”.
The sexually ambiguous character of SUPER-CONDOM is played by Sisonke. In one of the films SUPER-CONDOM is dressed in his white Elvis Preslyesque costume and high heels, offers free hugs to passers-by near the busy road near Kliptown’s railway tracks with the catch phrase “I hug you positive or negative”. The short film opens a window into the current changing attitudes of communities around the issue HIV and AIDs.
“We decided to make funny movies around the theme, SUPER-CONDOM is very sexy fun character who tackles the subject of AIDS in a fun way and it worked because, because SUPER-CONDOM is popular here ” She says telling me of an unusual request from the community during last (October) months’ film screening “I think we’ve made more than 40 movies just about SUPER-CONDOM, and last month the community told me they don’t have condoms, they need more” She says laughing. The Super Condom concept was so effective and popular that the Film Festival of Toronto, commissioned similar films but with an ecological theme. The request introduced the birth of “Ecolosh” and the Green Revolution series. The name merges Ecology with the mythical and well-known South African character of Tokolosh, used to scare adults and children alike for generations.
“We worked with a designer, and with the crew picked up all the dirt near the river and surrounds, we washed off the filth and made the costume”
In one of the short films “A romantic dinner”; two lovers sit near the filthy banks of the local stream to a dinner prepared by Ecolosh, they ask for water, and Ecolosh brings them a jug from the polluted water down stream, and both lovers take a sip and die elegantly at the pristine table.
“Ecolosh is always there, doesn’t tell you what to do” says de Blic “But the message is effective”
When I ask de Blic about access to money or funding her response is passionate. “I have done this with no budget, and have found ways get money along the way. I have not received any support from local film-makers, I teach about French films because that is what I know, I would like to teach more about African film, I want to work with local film makers, but I have not found any volunteer or local film makers willing to help. This is not a charity initiative – to appease my conscience – I learn from them and they learn from me. I am a happier person because of it”
Boboy says when de Blic arrived in Kliptown they were busy doing drama, music and dance in different artist groups “ I’m glad now that I have a skill! I know how to do something now, we are happy to do something” He beams. “The screening is very popular in Kliptown, some three hundred people come to see the show every month” He says, adding, “Some locals don’t like to come to Kliptown because it’s dirty, or dangerous so we welcome people who come to teach us something”. I ask him how it feels to be the star of the show, after the Eat My Dust Crew won an award at the JoziFilm Festival for best short fiction film, he smiles politely and replies “I’m not the star the whole team is”
Eat My Dust will screen its last open air cinema for 2012 on the 1 st of December in KlipTown.