14 December 2018, News

AFDA Port Elizabeth’s first ever Honours film, Isikhalo, has exceeded all expectations and has begun making waves in the local industry. The film introduces Ciki, a young woman who grew up in a rural Eastern Cape village. Ciki marries a suburban high school teacher, Bantu. After moving to Ntselamanzi Township with Bantu, she discovers that her husband is not the man she imagined him to be. Supported by her fellow stokvel friends, Ciki finally stands up to Bantu’s archaic interpretation of cultural standards, and so begins a journey of courageous self-discovery. The film deals with themes of the often neglected nuances of sexual consent and spousal rape. It is brought to life by Ciki’s journey of self-discovery, and themes of women banding together in an effort to protect and empower one another.

Isikhalo was conceptualised by Sisanda Dyantyi as part of her third year Screenwriting outcome in 2017. The screenplay was originally titled Sufferance. It was unanimously decided by the Honours crew that Isikhalo was indeed a story that needed to be told. This solidarity, understanding of, and sensitivity to the central themes of the screenplay worked to create a film that has handled the subject matter with tact and care. The narrative is touching, and the visuals stunning. All of this culminates in a film that can only be described as beautiful, and it does so without romanticizing its dark thematic base, which was of the highest priority for the filmmakers. Dyantyi worked with Loren Buchner, who co-wrote and co-directed along with Dyantyi, to develop Sufferance into the Honours screenplay, Isikhalo.

The crew worked to produce a film that they, AFDA, and all of the people who have been empowered through this narrative, can be proud of. The film was produced by Athenkosi Gabada, who also composed and sings the film’s title track. The Art Department was made up of Alimpo Kelife and Ryan Reid-Thomson, with Kelife heading the Costume, Make-Up and Styling and Reid-Thomson on Production Design. The Cinematography was done by Vuyisile Faba. Lindsay Jandjies was the film’s Sound Designer and Jason Forsdick the film’s editor. AFDA Port Elizabeth is immensely proud of its very first Honours crew and the quality of work they have produced, truly encompassing all that AFDA stands for and hopes to achieve in the way of breeding the next generation of talented South African filmmakers. In addition to the talented core crew, it is important to note some of the undergraduate assistants who had hand in the success of this production. The Honours crew acknowledges the invaluable assistance of undergrad and alumni students.

Once the crew had made their decision to run with Dyantyi’s concept, the task became to tell that story effectively. A research trip led to a decision that would ultimately change the course of the film. The research trip began in Makhanda (Previously known as Grahamstown) and Peddie. It was here that the crew decided to question the local Police department on rape statistics in the area. The crew was shocked to discover the lax manner in which rape cases were handled and the lack of support and respect for rape victims in this environment designed to serve and protect the community. This encounter inspired the crew to change the ending of the film. Instead, the crew opted for an alternative ending wherein the stokvel women took it upon themselves to empower and protect their friend from the nightmare she had been living. The village scenes were finally shot in Hamburg. All of these decisions culminated in a film that emphasised the necessity of proactive community support for victims of abuse, who struggle to gain support from the legal system.

This new information, the strong concept on which the film was based, the love and hard work on the part of the crew, the support of AFDA learning staff, and the additional guidance from two industry professionals and ADFA alumni, Etienne Fourie and Tom Marais, brought the screenplay to its rich and impactful final form. Etienne Fourie conducted a writing masterclass that centred on the development of the Isikhalo screenplay, while Tom Marais was able to workshop the cinematic translation of the screenplay. 

The film’s premiere screening was on 24 November 2018, at AFDA Port Elizabeth’s annual Graduation Film Festival, which coincided with the 16 Days of Activism movement. The premiere, as well as the second screening of the film later in the day, were both sold out shows. The audience’s response to the film was overwhelmingly positive and the comments and feedback that came later proved that Isikhalo had been a major success. Since its premiere, Isikhalo has screened at the Eastern Cape Film Festival and featured on eNCA and SABC News, and public interest in the film has not waned. The narrative has resonated with countless individuals, and given voice to a largely under-acknowledged social crisis. Isikhalo has exceeded the high expectations of all involved. With this, it is expected that the Isikhalo journey has only just begun.

AFDA is the South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance, and is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training as a private higher education institution under the Higher Education Act, 1997. Registration certificate no. 2001/HE07/012.

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