Local girl’s film charms Italian youngsters

2009-06-06 00:00

FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD Amber-Jay van Rooyen has returned from Italy clutching three awards for her film Coming Home — best film, best actor/actress and the Unesco Fellini medal (awarded to the film that best embodies the spirit and culture of its country).

Coming Home, with Amber-Jay in the main role alongside Hlomla Dandala, was also nominated in the categories Broadcasters Award and Best Film as voted by Italian children only. The film was up against 23 short films from 12 countries at the 20th International CIAK Junior Festival competition in Treviso, Italy.

Based on a story written by the talented Mooi River teenager, Coming Home tells the tale of a city girl who moves to a farm and battles to fit in at her new school. Then she meets an old Zulu spirit (Dandala) who teaches her three important life lessons.

Jacqui Hlongwane-Papo, an SABC executive producer, describes the film as “a clever take on merging African cultures and traditions with Western ideas”. She added: “The South African story about a friendship between a young white girl and a Zulu spirit crosses colour barriers and generations.”

Amber-Jay first penned the story as part of a grade six school project. It was then submitted for the SABC Lights Camera Action competition and beat 1 600 entrants to be workshopped and turned into a short film. “My friends are really impressed,” the grade nine pupil said, “We all did the same project and they are all amazed it has gone so far.”

Asked if the experience has encouraged her to pursue a career in the film industry, she said: “I have enjoyed every single second of this experience, so I might go that way, but you never really know what will happen in the future.”

Coming Home will be broadcast early next year on SABC1.

Mindpool Productions were commissioned by the SABC to turn all the winning stories in each province into short films. Amber-Jay’s movie was workshopped at her school where her classmates were taught about film and script writing. They all contributed in adapting Amber-Jay’s story into a film. The film was shot on her parents farm, Torwood, in Mooi River and at Treverton.

Coming Home was submitted to the International Children’s Film Festival organisers with three other South African short films, which were screened with subtitles in schools throughout Italy. But it was Coming Home that won the hearts of the judges, the school children, who selected it as the best. This automatically entered it to represent South Africa at the festival.

The CIAK Junior Festival competition is an international TV project that exposes children aged 10 to 15 to the medium of film. Children are invited to write and submit stories for a short film, which are then judged by a panel of producers, directors and scriptwriters. The actors include the author of the story and other children who are not professional actors.

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