Director Nathan Pfaff, editor of the documentary The Advocate, displays an interest in people who eschew financial success in favour of altruistic fulfilment. Film School Africa sees the successful Katie Taylor leave her burgeoning Hollywood career to continue this project in South Africa.
Initially braced for white-saviourism, I was relieved to find a story of empowerment. However, I found the use of subtitling jarring. White people speaking English were never subtitled, but people of colour speaking English were. It didn’t sit well. Nonetheless, Film School Africa embodies the best type of youth programme—challenging, yet rewarding. Teachers Katie and Marie coach young people from different backgrounds on their journey to become filmmakers.
Knowing very little about present-day South Africa. I found Film School Africa eye-opening: As post-apartheid South Africa is still massively segregated, it is highly unusual for people from the various groups to be mixing with each other. Those involved in the making of the documentary are keen to express this fact, with special emphasis on the trepidation that Juan, a young white man, feels at first when spending time in the township of Kayamandi.
Youth projects such as Film School Africa have the potential to break these patterns over time, validating young people and creating a space for them to share their own stories, in their own way. In the first instance, they seem to use this space as a forum to engage in DIY trauma therapy.
Film School Africa draws on footage of almost a decade of the project, documenting the achievements and sorrows of group members. It captures their passion and ambition, despite having limited opportunities in their community. Katie and Marie provide context throughout, but the real stories come from the group: Repholositswe “Repro” Mpitsa, Juan Van der Walt, Tsakane Shikwambana, Gasthon Lewis, and Sihle James, who presents their situation at the beginning of his own documentary.
‘Kayamandi’, from the Xhosa-speaking people, means ‘nice home.’ He says “But you shouldn’t let the name fool you. This is far from being a nice home.”
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