A Durban filmmaker is making international waves for his thought-provoking, short documentary on the extremes residents go to in order to feel safe in the Durban North suburbs.
The eight-minute documentary, "Love, Your Neighbour" humorously delves into the realities of living in upmarket neighbourhoods in South Africa.
The film has been selected for a World Premiere at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), one of the most renowned documentary festivals globally.
The film, which will make its global debut on November 11, is directed by Durban-born filmmaker, Jethro Westraad, who returned from living in Europe for a year to his family home in Durban North during the national lockdown in 2020.
The documentary spotlights the invisible barriers of communication between neighbours, despite the close physical proximity.
It reveals a community that prefers to hide behind tall walls, electrified fences, and the gaze of security cameras, communicating primarily through a Neighbourhood Crime Watch WhatsApp group that has spiralled into a cesspool of paranoia and racial profiling.
"Love, Your Neighbour" artfully captures the filmmaker’s journey as he attempts to reach out to the people next door, not by knocking on their doors, but through their intercoms.
The documentary showcases a series of interviews conducted via these devices, exploring residents' dependency on guard dogs, high-security measures, and their attitudes towards the indigenous vervet monkey, which has become an unexpected scapegoat for various community frustrations.
This 8-minute film, while succinct, is a microcosm of a society grappling with fear and the desire for connection.
The darkly comic elements are underpinned by the pervasive slogan "BEWARE PASOP" and recreated WhatsApp conversations that go between the absurd and the chillingly revealing.
Talking about the documentary, Westraad - who lives between the Netherlands and South Africa - says that he happened to find himself during the one or two hours people were allowed out of their homes during lockdown filming the electrified fences and warning signs outside his neighbours’ homes.
“I've always stopped to take a photo of the crazy beware, 'passop' signs because I find them quite amusing. But I think having that distance living overseas for a year and coming back I realised that this is quite strange. It's a strange phenomenon. And I wanted to do something around this. So I started to document the tall walls and electric fences,” he said.
What started out as killing time during lockdown morphed into the genesis of a documentary when one of his neighbours, who had spotted him filming the sign outside her home, asked him what he was doing through the intercom.
“I said, 'Hello, I'm your neighbour. I'm just taking a picture of the sign’. And then she said, ‘yeah, what's funny about it?’ ... actually, that was like the spark that made me realise I need to talk to the neighbours through the intercom ... The symbol of an intercom in South Africa, is like a suburban bouncer. It's just a normal tool here in Europe, you know, using it to get in and out of places. But in South Africa, it's like the way that you vet people. You can check - what kind of person am I dealing with here?” Westraad said.
While the documentary has serious undertones, it is also light-hearted and funny.
“I wanted the film to be burlesque and to make fun of us, you know, me and my neighbours. I was also including myself in the film, you know, in kind of a way that I'm not immune to the suburbs. You know, [in one of the shots] I'm lying on the sun chair in the sun. I'm a part of this world. But with this kind of obsession with protection, comes, I think, a normalisation of attitudes, that it's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said.
The IDFA selection is a testament to the film’s impact and its exploration of themes relevant not only to South African audiences, but to a global community increasingly sequestered in self-imposed enclaves of isolation.
The World Premiere on November 11th is not just a milestone for the filmmaker, but for South African documentary filmmaking, as it continues to stake a claim on the international stage, showcasing the country's ability to tell compelling stories with universal resonance.
Westraad, while currently in the Netherlands, says his next project is a feature documentary on the Norwegian whaling industry in Durban.