Fresh African film perspectives

2012-06-08 14:05

There are amazing international features at the 14th Encounters South African International Documentary Festival, but it’s the 22 South African films that really got us excited.

The 7 team
watched a reel of them and selected three that we consider must-sees. And the African Cypher is an electrifying documentary that maps township street culture, dance and display. Percy Mabandu chats to director Bryan Little.

How did your journey into this story begin?
Our production company, Fly on the Wall, was approached by Red Bull to make teaser films for their Beat Battle competition. As we were shooting, we realised there was a much bigger story to be told.

As a white guy from Cape Town, I went in completely ignorant of these vibrant subcultures and told the story from that starting point.

What did you learn from the subjects you followed?
Dancing is the reason they wake up in the morning. The success of this film is directly related to that passion.

One of the guys, Mada, says: ‘I dance as if I have a gun to my head.’ Or Prince: ‘Dancing saved my life. If I wasn’t a pantsula, I would be dead.’

But as I say in the film, to dwell on these things does the dancers a disservice.

They have risen above their hardships or are at least trying to, and the strength of character they show can teach us all something about what it truly means to be alive.

For dance fans, it will also be an insight into a truly unique dance culture that can be found nowhere else in the world.

How easy was it for you to be embraced by the communities?
We were very careful about how we approached the situation. People want to be on TV, want to be famous, and it is easy to exploit a culture and pull away with superficial footage.

We wanted something deeper, so we spent a lot of time meeting people and hanging out, drinking with people, meeting their friends, their mums and family.

I only wanted our camera to go in when it could be followed by our hearts. We spent eight months in the different communities, be it Soweto, Orange Farm, the Cape Flats or Mohlakeng.

I hope this film in some way repays their kindness.

Can you give us a quick guide to the different dance styles?

IsiPantsula was a way to gain identity when it was stolen from black people.

The dance style itself is composed of routines where a group performs intricate choreographed routines and is focused on very skilful movement of feet. Solos are more freestyle.

B-boying is an element of hip-hop culture that came from America in the 80s, but crews have a very distinct local style. B-boying almost feels like gymnastics at times.

Sbhujwa is a relatively new style that is a fusion of many different dance styles. It sometimes looks like a slowed-down version of isiPantsula, but it definitely is its own style.

It also has a more MTV music video, contemporary feel. It is a really interesting evolution and I am curious to see how it grows.

Krump is also something that originated in America.

The style seems superaggressive, with a lot of powerful and in-your-face arm movement, and is popular in hip-hop music videos but it is a way of channelling emotions through your body in a very direct way.

For many dancers, it is a spiritual act and their way of connecting with God.

» The 14th Encounters Festival takes place in Cape Town and Joburg until June 24.

Visit for a full schedule. The screenings take place at V&A Nu Metro and The Fugard Theatre in Cape Town, and at The Bioscope and Hyde Park Nu Metro in Johannesburg

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