Johannesburg - Not even in her wildest dreams could Amy Jephta have imagined attending the prestigious Oscar Academy Awards.
But what seemed like a far-fetched dream for the director could now turn into reality after Jephta’s film Barakat was this week selected as South Africa’s official submission for Best International Feature at the 94th Academy Awards in 2022.
The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) selected the multi-award-winning MultiChoice film as South Africa’s official submission .
This makes Jephta the fourth woman director to be submitted to the Oscars by South Africa, and the first woman of colour.
While she is still shell shocked by the news, she admits it would be a dream come true to attend the Oscars.
“I won't be able to sleep for maybe a month,” a delighted Jephta told the Saturday Star this week.
Her film Barakat follows Muslim widow Aisha Davids as she tries to bring together her fractured family over Eid-al-Fitr to break the news about her new romance.
Jephta wrote Barakat with producer Ephraim Gordon, who co-founded the production companies PaperJet Films and Nagvlug Films with her.
The pair also co-directed the critically acclaimed Showmax Original Cape Flats neo-noir murder mystery Skemerdans.
The film stars South African Film and Television Award (Safta) nominee Vinette Ebrahim as the ageing matriarch, while her four sons, still struggling to come to terms with the death of their father two years earlier, are played by Joey Rasdien, Mortimer Williams, Keeno-Lee Hector and Danny Ross
The cast also includes Safta winners Quanita Adams and June van Merch as well as Safta nominees Bonnie Mbuli and Leslie Fong.
Barakat is told in Afrikaaps, the widely spoken Cape dialect of the Afrikaans language. The first Afrikaaps dictionary is currently in development, after being announced earlier this year.
“I am so proud that our small story about a family has reached as many people as it has,” said Jephta, the 2019 Standard Bank Young Artist of The Year for theatre, who also scripted South Africa’s official 2018 Golden Globes submission for Foreign Film, Ellen: The Story of Ellen Pakkies.
“To be recognised by South Africa in this way is incredibly special after an extremely challenging year for our film industry.”
Barakat was released in South African cinemas in May 2021 and on BoxOffice by DStv in June 2021, with New Frame praising it as “a layered, intimate and infinitely human story about family that provides a powerful counter-narrative to Muslim stereotypes”.
The touching film, which closed Film Africa 2020, has won seven international awards so far, including Best International Feature at the 2021 Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema and Best Narrative Feature at both the Motion Pictures International Film Festival and The Reel Sisters Of The Diaspora Festival in 2020.
Speaking about the film, Jephta said she was delighted at the opportunity to tell a story of such nature.
“It's super important to us, as filmmakers, to depict the everyday nuances of our lived experiences as South Africans – especially as black South Africans.To know that our stories can be uplifting, inspiring, doesn't always have to be rooted in deep trauma or heartache.
“To see a family just existing on their own terms – I think that narrative about South Africa is one that's barely been seen outside of our borders.”
She added that it was also important to tell the story in their mother tongue.
“The language represents everything we know about ’home’. Our culture, our traditions, the nuances of our lived experience, all of that is encapsulated in the language we speak. So yes, we needed to keep it hyper local to keep it authentic.”
She also spoke of her delight at working with a star studded cast.
“It was incredible, from the first table read.There was such a natural, easy chemistry with this ensemble. They brought so much of their individual, lived experiences to the set every day. Even now, I'm not able to picture the Davids family any other way. Coming to work was a jol.”
Jephta also revelled in working with Gordon once again.
“We've been friends for 15 years and met and started collaborating during our first year at the University of Cape Town. As artists and creatives, we find we complement one another very naturally and balance out strengths and weaknesses.
“Whereas Ephraim is a people's person and a great networker, I am a more solitary creative type. It’s on the back of that chemistry that we built our company.”
Asked what the chances of her film winning an Oscar were, Jephta said : “We're up against some amazing films in probably the most difficult category to win (because it has so many entries).
“But we also think the prestige of this moment is about far more than winning. To be trusted by our country to represent what South African storytelling is, remains an achievement in its own right. So we’re excited but also realistic. This is our first film – we don't want to peak too soon.”
Gordon admitted the pair were taken by complete surprise by the news.
“This came quite unexpectedly because it was never the reason or the intention behind the making of the film,” said Gordon.
“And I think that is what makes it so exciting for us because it literally exceeded our own expectations.”
Speaking about the film, Gordon said the storyline followed an ordinary Cape Flats family, coming to terms with the loss of a father.
“The film takes us on a journey of grief and of absolute joy, but at the end we realise anew, that family is always the most important thing,” said Gordon. “From the onset we just wanted to make a film that shows coloured people have a good laugh.
“Something different from the violent depictions of who we are. We wanted to show ourselves as part of a joyful family context. But as the story grew, we realised that through the joy there lies an opportunity to show a deeper side to our existence and explore the idea of loss and grief amid the laughter.”
Gordon also spoke of the challenges that they faced when shooting the award-winning movie.
“Like with any film in this country, we were constantly in need of a little bit more money. There was a time where this film just wasn't going to happen. Funding wasn't coming through, but we persevered and it all worked out in the end.”
Nominations for the 94th Academy Awards will be announced on February 8, 2022, with the Oscars ceremony taking place on Sunday, March 27, 2022.
You can watch Barakat on kykNET on December 18 2021 at 8pm.