A film inspired by a Stellenbosch University-driven project to capture the forgotten history of the EOAN opera group has been selected as the only documentary from Africa to compete for an international award at the International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA) in Amsterdam this year.
IDFA is "one of the world's leading documentary film festivals" and is "dedicated to the exhibition and promotion of groundbreaking creative documentaries".
An Inconsolable Memory, produced by filmmaker Aryan Kaganof, will compete with a number of other international documentaries for the VPRO IDFA Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary. It will also be the first time that the documentary is screened internationally.
"I am absolutely delighted to get the opportunity to showcase this documentary to an international audience," said Kaganof.
The filmmaker has also been chosen, along with two others from Africa, to participate in the World Documentary Exchange (WDE). The WDE is a marketing programme that "aims to support filmmakers in search for distribution channels for their film as well as deepen their knowledge of the documentary market".
The EOAN group was established in 1933 and functioned as a cultural organisation for so-called coloured persons from District Six. The organisation presented opera, drama and ballet productions and became particularly famous between the 1950s and 1970s for the opera shows it staged in South Africa and overseas. Today the group is based at the Joseph Stone Theatre in Athlone.
"The EOAN group was South Africa's first grassroots opera company. It played a leading role in the development and performance of opera in South Africa and Cape Town in particular. The book about their history, Eoan – Our Story, is the first to tell the group's history, and this film not only complements the written history, but gives a unique perspective on the stories collected for the book," said Dr Hilde Roos and Mr Wayne Muller, co-editors of the book, which was released in January by Fourthwall Books.
The film presenter was Ms Ruth Fourie, the widow of Eoan baritone Lionel Fourie, and the production manager was Roos, a post-doctoral fellow from the Department of Music at SU.
The University is connected to the Eoan group via the Eoan Archive that today is housed in the Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS).
About 45 interviews were conducted with Eoan members and their families over a period of five years and transcribed.
A committee, which consisted of members from SU and Eoan, was responsible for working through all the information and providing guidance to arrive at the end product. The members were Roos, Fourie, Santie de Jongh, archivist at DOMUS, Muller, editor of the University's staff newspaper Kampusnuus, Prof Stephanus Muller, a professor in the Department of Music at SU and the head of the DOMUS, prof Christine Lucia, an eminent music scholar and Extraordinary Professor in music at SU, Mr Ronnie Samaai, the brother of the Eoan tenor Gerald Samaai, and Eoan bass Phillip Swales.
"The EOAN project constitutes a first in South African music studies: the oral history methodology, the community-centred decision-making that informs the book, the collaborative research and the creative reflection on that process through documentary film," said Stephanus Muller.
According to Kaganof, he let the filmed material lead him in the final creation process.
"The material that was collected during the filming of interviews with the elderly members of the Eoan group was what drove the direction of the documentary in the end. I wanted to tell the story of the Eoan group via the memories of the members that were shared with us on camera. However, as we know, memories are not always coherent, are often ambiguous, at times inconsequential, and contradictory. I tried to capture that feeling via the different types of film material I used (for instance cell phone footage)," explained Kaganof.
Locally, Kaganof's film has received rave reviews with the Sunday Independentcalling it "A beautiful poem to the past" and Financial Mail describing it as a "love letter from the present to the past".
Photo caption: Some of the committee members at the first private screening of filmmaker Aryan Kaganof's documentary, An Inconsolable Memory. From the left are Mr Phillip Swales, Prof Stephanus Muller, Prof Christine Lucia, Ms Santie de Jongh, Mr Ronnie Samaai, Dr Hilde Roos, Ms Ruth Fourie and Mr Kaganof. (Hennie Rudmann, SSFD)