Talia Smith’s proudly SA movie receives international praise
South Africans of various disciplines have for decades been making the nation proud with their achievements and success around the world.
From Patrice Motsepe, Elon Musk to Charlize Theron and more recently the likes of Trevor Noah, DJ Black Coffee and the Springboks, they’ve all put the country on the international map in their own unique way.
South African film director Talia Smith is the nation’s latest break-out star who is setting the global stage alight with her locally inspired movie, Umuma.
The movie, which is based around a South African domestic worker who wakes to find her son missing, has won gold at the 47th 2020 Student Academy Awards (SAA) in the US last month.
Smith’s win at the international student film competition could see her follow in the footsteps of illustrious alumni as previous SAA winners have gone on to win 11 Oscars, and receive 63 Oscar nominations.
They include the likes of Pete Docter, Robert Zemeckis, Patricia Riggen, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Patricia Cardoso and Spike Lee.
This year alone, Umama was also shortlisted for a student British Academy Film Awards (Bafta) award, is a finalist at the Norwich Film Festival and a semi finalist at the Chicago Film Festival.
The emotional and captivating local production also received scores of local accolades as Smith won best director at the SA Indie Festival while the movie also won in the best short film category at the Garden Route Film Festival.
While Smith is thrilled with all her local and international accomplishments, particularly with Umama, she is especially proud of its South African roots.
“I am so proud to be South African and so now having won the Student Academy Award for a film that we shot in South Africa with South African talent is just further validation for my holding onto the pride I have to be South African,” she told The Saturday Star this week.
While the local film director is now living in the US and even graduated from the prestigious New York University (NYU), she insists that she continues to keep her country close to her heart and thoughts.
“I have held on tight to all of my South African-isms and especially my accent,” she said.
“When I graduated from NYU, I walked the stage with the South African flag on my back and the day the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup, I was on the subway wearing an SA flag beanie.”
While Smith has much to be proud of in her young film career, the recognition she received for Umama are some of her proudest moments to date.
“My most notable achievement to date is definitely winning Gold for the Student Academy Awards.
“We thought just raising enough money for the film was a massive achievement and so now to be here is beyond our wildest dreams.”
Smith believes that the emotion that Umama elicits is one of the main reasons why it was received so well both locally and abroad.
“I think universally people can connect with the main theme being sacrifice.
“A mother who has to sacrifice so much for her child in the only way she can and I think both in SA and around the world this part of the story is a touchstone that all audiences can relate to.”
She also believes that the local film gives an international audience a view into a new world which many might have never experienced or witnessed before.
But for South African viewers, Smith reckons that they can relate to the story as well as the complex characters.
“In SA, this story touches home for so many because there are characters and perspectives that most South Africans can relate to.
“The film speaks about relationships that are so common in the country but hardly ever spoken about and I think in that way South Africans are afforded a look into a new perspective.”
Due to the global health crisis, the SAA was forced to move online but this did little to dampen Smith’s spirits as the news of her win was revealed to her by the legendary American film director, producer, screenwriter, actor, and professor Lee.
“I had been watching Spike Lee’s movies only a few days before and so when he popped up on the screen I literally thought I had been dreaming the whole thing,” she admitted.
“It was such a surreal experience and at the time no words could come out of my mouth and I was just shaking.”
While 2020 was a career success for Smith, this year did come with its challenges.
“I actually moved to Los Angeles in January to look for work there but that plan was immediately shut down because of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
But as the world yearns to continue as normal as news of various coronavirus vaccines were announced in recent weeks, Smith is determined to take her career to new heights.
“I am writing a feature-length film that is also a true story based in South Africa along with creating some content and directing music videos.”
Her advice to those who wish to follow in her film making footsteps is simple: “Go for it with everything you have.”