Cape Town duo colour SA stories with radical authenticity
MEET Amy Jephta and Ephraim Gordon – two filmmakers from Cape Town – working to bring authenticity to stories depicting minority cultures both in front of and behind the camera.
The two recently won the award for Best Narrative at the 23rd Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Festival in the US for their feature film Barakat. They've also just wrapped production for the Afrikaans drama series, Skemerdans, a collaboration with Joburg-based company Nouvanaand Films, through their joint venture Nagvlug films.
The duo, founders of the production company, Paperjet Films, are not only writing, directing and producing award-winning film and television told from the lens of their lived experiences, but they’re creating opportunities for other industry creatives from minority groups to get in on the action. “Our goal is and always has been to open up the doors of the film and television industry for people who look like us,” said Jephta.
Instead of duplicating hackneyed stereotypical representations of minorities, the duo produce works that are an accurate, rich, detailed and authentic expression of people’s lives. “Nobody knows this street, its smells, its tastes and memories the way we do,” said Jephta.
“It’s important for us to shift narratives,” said Gordon, “representations of our people haven’t always been kind.” “We need more holistic narratives which express characters with dignity and integrity so audience members can proudly relate to them and say, ’I know who that person is’.”
“This means we must show all sides of the coin and not just select the side that looks pretty, or the side that is sensational,” he added.
The integrity with which Jephta and Gordon produce their films is clear.
The writing-producing team made their debut at South Africa’s 2017 kykNET Silwerskerm Festival with their short film SOLDAAT (Soldier), for which they won Best Screenplay and Best Short.
Jephta, a celebrated theatre practitioner, director, and writer, also scripted South Africa’s official 2018 Golden Globes submission for Foreign Film, Ellen: The Story of Ellen Pakkies. In 2019, she was awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year award for theatre. Actor and director Gordon starred in Nosipho Dumisa’s critically acclaimed 2018 debut, Number 37, which made history with its premiere at the SXSW festival in Texas.
Their critically acclaimed Barakat, about an aging matriarch who aims to bring together her fractured, dysfunctional family over Eid-al-Fitr to break the news about her new romance, includes an all-star cast. Big names such as Vinette Ebrahim of 7de Laan fame, TV and film actor, Leslie Fong and the popular comedian, Joey Rasdien are just some of the faces you can expect to see when the film is released in May 2021.
Ebrahim described the process of working with Gordon and Jephta on Barakat as a “beautiful healing experience.” Rasdien said he was impressed with the level of care taken to cast the actors of the film, as each was hand-picked, based not only on their skill but also the personal experiences they could bring to the film. He said being able to process these experiences through the production of the film was “quite cathartic”.
The duo is also actively serving the growth and development of minority creators by cultivating platforms for emerging talent through collaboration and mentorship of up-and-coming writers, directors and crew. Paperjet Films were intentional in hiring crew who were familiar with the cultural world depicted in Barakat. They also insisted on inviting new voices in the scripting of their first instalment of their latest project Skemerdans.
The show is about a well-off, coloured, middle-class family in the Southern suburbs that owns a popular jazz club. Many of the scenes in the TV series were shot in well-known Athlone nightclub, Galaxy. Jephta said what was special for her about this project was the connection to music in its storyline. “My dad used to be a nightclub singer for a band called Hot Property in the 80s,” she added.
Gordon said casting for television is often compartmentalised, but with this show he was excited that he could cast a Xhosa man and a Coloured man as brothers, and “which race or cultural group they came from didn’t matter, they said they were brothers in the story, so they’re brothers,” he added.
The show will be released in April 2021 on Showmax and includes known names such as Kevin Smith and Ilse Klink as well as newer stars including Brendon Daniels (Vallei van Sluiers), Trudy Van Rooy (Die Byl) and Andrea Juries (Arendsvlei).
When asked about their vision as filmmakers, Gordon said, “I want to continue to capture time as it is, showing the world our present ,the way it exists now, so that it can serve as an artefact in the future.”
Jephta believes creating content that places them among the best in the world creatively and technically, while staying true to their voices and roots is key. “We must never compromise on that,” she said.