The third World Cinema Amsterdam campaign model is South-African director Sibs Shongwe-La Mer. Based in Amsterdam he won the Jury Award for his film ‘Necktie Youth’ at World Cinema Amsterdam in 2015. Fiction film about a girl who live streams her own suicide on the internet, set amongst the suburbs of middle class Johannesburg. We spoke with him about his work and what the festival means to him as a filmmaker.
Positioning the filmmaker
For the past two years Sibs has been travelling around the world and is now living in Amsterdam for an art residency. As a filmmaker it is important to him to be conscious and to take the social responsibility for where he’s from. “I feel a huge allegiance to express and reflect what is happening in South Africa and the experience of how I feel as a human being in that context. Because even if I am in Europe, I would still have a South African European experience. But the real job of film making, I think, is being hungry for anthropological research, to be socially engaged by life and to be constantly willing to examine it in a very in-depth manner.
Engaging with the audience
“I said it already in 2015, World Cinema Amsterdam was one of my favourite festivals during my tour. As soon as I got to Amsterdam, I felt that people had watched my movie and cared about me being there and cared about what I had to say. World Cinema Amsterdam is a place where you can engage. It is really personal, as opposed to festivals where people are moving around you but have no idea who you are.”
“There is a social responsibility and an honour coming to the Netherlands and showing South African stories of a society that has been molded by colonial history with the Netherlands. Showing those stories in contemporary context to the Dutch audience has a value about them. And it actually helps to understand where we are now, who we are, and being able to understand each other on empathetic levels. It’s not only related to Amsterdam, but actually to the rest of the world.”
“World Cinema Amsterdam also gets world filmmakers talking about what needs to go down. The perception gets stronger, the industry gets more collective, ideas get cohesive, people start linking. It might not be a million people, but it is the people who are open to dialogue. Film is not a dictatorship, it is a constant collaboration.”
Urge for filmmaking
Sibs is an inspired filmmaker who reflects on film, people and the world. When asked why he makes films he is very explicit: “There is so much hate, and separatism in the world. Until we can see that people are just like us, if we see people are crying like us, feeling like us; we need messages to show what society is going to look like when we preach on hateful ideas.”
Sibs launched his new film project ‘Color of the Skull’ at this years Berlinale. It is about two young boys in the valley of South Africa who are drawn into a right-wing military context. He wants to make films about humans, so he forced himself to understand racism and got to read intense hate speeches of right-wing white supremacists. “For me, that was the hardest part. But I think the film is about one simple log line. All hate is a misinterpretation of a desperation for love. People will do desperate and painful things to protect what they love. As simply as that.”
Photography: Bas Losekoot