Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with Spanish filmmaker Pablo Pinedo, who is a graduate of The Writing Studio, showcased his sensational and stirring documentary Noma at the HotDocs 2016 in Toronto, and received the Amnesty International Human Rights award at the Durban International Film Festival.
Challenging conventional filmmaking, Pablo Pinedo is very much an auteur when it comes to his well-researched and structured Noma, using his skills as producer, writer, director and cinematographer to create an impressionistic documentary that is different from traditional filmmaking.
Giving a voice to the homeless
Tell me about Noma, what is the doccie about?
Noma tells the story of Nomaliphathwe Gwele, a 25 year old single mother of two, who lives in a backyard in a rented shack, and wants to improve her life. To do that she decides to join a land occupation action to build her own shack in the new settlement but risking violent evictions.
What inspired the documentary?
Few years ago I started to document evictions in Cape Town and surroundings, to be a human shield for the residents and use the “media” presence as an attenuator for law enforcement repression. Some of that footage has been used in court cases as evidence that residents were living in the structures for more than 24 hours which is what is claimed by the City or Province against the occupiers. After documenting several evictions I felt the necessity of telling the story from before, to make audiences and society understand the reasons and conditions/circumstances that leads someone to occupy land and erect a structure to name home. Theres a real social drama related to housing in this country, that still affects thousands of people, in spite of being 22 years in a so-called democracy, after Apartheid.
Having is house you can call home is an important issue in your film? Tell me about this?
Having a place that you can call home is absolutely necessary, it doesn’t need to be a house, and it can be something else. When you don’t have a home at the center of the real, everything becomes fragmentation, to quote John Berger. There’s something related to human dignity, privacy and security in our inner self that needs that place called home.
Was it difficult to get the documentary made?
It has been a tremendous effort, in all means, as it is a 100% independent production. Shooting the evictions was a bit of a risky situation but I love the action so I can’t complain at all. The film would have not been possible without the help of many friends and colleagues that have added valuable effort and advice. I made very extreme choices in terms of narrative style and cinematography because I had the intention of telling the story in a particular way, to give the feeling of what type of life some people live. All those choices influenced the whole process.
How do you relate to the Noma?
Personally I have been always fascinated by homeless people. That perseverance and endurance that they have strikes me, like Nomaliphathwe, perhaps because it is something completely opposed to the way I am used to live. Diametrically opposed to my comfort zone. Housing issue is an universal issue. We see examples of it all over the world: the favelas in Brazil, the squatter camps in the outskirts of Madrid and the house evictions due to economic recession to thousands of people all over Spain, the Rumanian gipsy camps in Italy…. I lived in Rome, for five years, during that time I spent around 2 years hanging out, researching and shooting with homeless people in the surroundings of Termini, the main train station, for a film about intimacy and dreams. That’s a project that I would like to complete one day.
Is Noma based on a real person?
Yes it is. The story focuses on Nomaliphathwe Gwele, who represents a huge portion of the South African contemporary youth in similar situation, living in appalling conditions and surviving with a precarious underpaid job in the best of the cases. As well the story focuses in the birth and exponential growth of a new slum, and all that it implies.
What excites you about Documentary filmmaking?
It is the fact that those stories, characters and situations are real . Depending on the genre of course, but there’s something about documentary filmmaking that captivates me deeply. Reality most of the times, overcomes fiction. As well the intimacy with characters and in certain situations that you can arrive to achieve when filming in an unpretentious, non-intrusive mode.
What other films have you made?
Noma is my first feature documentary. Previously I have done a short documentary, Sizobalwa, also around the theme of the evictions that received a special mention at the Human Rights Film Festival de Bogota. Mainly I have worked as DOP.
Tell me about your invite to Canada?
A month ago I attended HotDocs 2016 in Toronto, one of the most important festival and industry gatherings for documentary worldwide. I was part of the South African delegation, looking for distribution for Noma.
And the Durban Festival?
The Durban Film Festival is going to be great. It’s going to be the world premier of the film and in South Africa. We have three screening dates: 19, 21, 24 June. The program is available online
What do you hope people will get out of watching Noma?
I have made this film for various reasons, one is to show to the world, in which situation many people live in this country. Due to its socio-political history there is a desensitisation among the population towards others. After living here in South Africa for the past 6 years I have experienced it. Apartheid still remains in people’s physique, and with this film I am bringing deeply and closer to the audience a social situation that could seem very far away for some of them. As well as the process of stages through desperation and so forth, that leads people to commit this type of action.