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Dylan Valley, reimagining film in South Africa

Published on 4 May 2018

Dylan Valley, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, is a member of the Artistic Committee and the lead curator of this year’s Film programme, which is centred around the curatorial prompt, VOICES AND SILENCE.

WATCH: ‘Undoing the idea of the great South African film that needs to be made’

Q: Your interest in hip-hop music was the catalyst for your initial interest in film. What is the relationship between those two forms and how did the one lead to the other for you? 

A: I think it was the storytelling element of hip hop, and the 4/4 timing which lends itself so well to video editing! Old school hip hop talks about knowledge of self and black consciousness. I was a big hip hop fan and I wanted to contribute to a visual storytelling mode within hip hop , which is how I got into documentary.

Q: There are  21 656 people employed in the South African film industry and according to a 2017 impact study, film accounted for R5.4 billion of SA’s GDP. But yet it seems South African are not watching South African films. According to producer Thabo Rametsi, South Africa makes some of the best films in the world and its actors are the best but he also argues that “the rest of the world consumes that content more and better than we do.” Do you agree?

A: I think there’s a lot of truth in that. However, I think it might speak to a disconnect between audiences , producers and distributors of film. South Africans consume local content religiously on television. Distributors and broadcasters can do a lot more to sell local content. I think things are shifting though.

Q: What is your view on the recent controversy surrounding Inxeba/The Wound (John Trengrove’s controversial love story, set in an isiXhosa initiation school)?

A: I think it’s a complex situation that needs more dialogue and less outrage. More people need to see the film (which is far from pornographic) before they judge. I don’t believe the film reveals anything about initiation that’s not already in the public domain but I understand the discomfort of having a white director tell a story this sensitive. That being said, I think it’s an important film and artistically excellent.

Q: Why does the National Arts Festival have or indeed need a film on the programme? Can’t Festival audiences watch films screened at the Festival pretty much anywhere, or just rent them or simply watch them online? 

A: Distribution of local films is an ongoing struggle. When our films do make it to cinemas they often only last a couple of weeks. Festivals play an important part in promoting local films and a platform for filmmakers to engage audiences and each other.

Q: What will be different about this year’s Film programme and what can audiences look forward to?

A: This year we have a strong local focus in the Film programme and have selected some of the best and most topical films to come out of South Africa over the past year. You can expect to be entertained, engaged and challenged.

  • DYLAN VALLEY is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who views film as a liberatory tool. He is currently an Associate Lecturer in Film and Television at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Valley also spent a year as a commissioning editor at the SABC. When he is not teaching at Wits, he DJs and is on the editorial board of Africa is a Country.