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SU journalism students debut documentary at prestigious Encounters film festival
Author: Corporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Anél Lewis]
Published: 27/05/2024

Four alumni from Stellenbosch University's (SU) Department of Journalism have a project, produced last year while they were still students, featured in the 26th Encounters South African International Documentary Festival. The documentary, Van Brood en Water (Of Bread and Water), is the first project by students from the department to be featured in an international festival of this nature. 

What makes the documentary produced by Stefani Terblanche, Sebastian Paulus, Keziah Bailey and Jodi-Mari Adams even more remarkable is that it was completed in just three weeks, says Jurg Slabbert, who lectures in documentary filmmaking at the department. The short course was just three weeks long and, in that time, the students attended lectures and pitched the film, produced it, filmed, edited and presented it by themselves. "I’m so pleased that their hard work is recognised outside the classroom walls and I'm sure it will resonate with a wider audience who will get to see the film. I can't wait to see what this year's students will bring to the table.”

The Encounters South African International Documentary Festival is considered Africa’s premier documentary festival and is one of the longest standing on the continent. Prof Herman Wasserman, Chair of the Department of Journalism, commended the students for their achievement. “The feat is especially impressive given that documentary filmmaking is only one of many multimedia-skills modules our students must complete for their Honours degree. They started as complete novices and managed to successfully complete  this short film in the space of a few weeks. This is proof of their talent, hard work and dedication, and the expert mentorship by their lecturer, Jurg Slabbert.”

Portrait of fishing community

Set within a fishing community on the West Coast, the 11-minute documentary explores the daily life, work, and relationships of a local fisherman. Affectionately named Witbrood (white bread), Christian shares insights of his daily life, exploring the exploitation of an industry he has been involved in for more than 50 years. The film also chronicles the chapters of life, including milestone moments like meeting his wife, Monica, at a game of dominoes, and the adoption of a child from the neighbourhood. The film is an intimate and moving portrait of family, purpose, and overcoming the odds.  

Written 'in the stars'

Terblanche says they initially considered featuring Adams’ father, a fisherman, as the subject of the documentary. Bailey also comes from a fisherman’s village where her family is involved in the industry. So, she says it was “written in the stars” that the group would do something related to fishing. But then a visit to Hout Bay harbour led to the locals suggesting Witbrood as an interesting case study. “He was so entertaining that we had the idea of focusing on him and his wife,” explains Paulus. “We wanted to shed some light on the fishing industry and the challenges small-scale fisherman face on a daily basis.”

Sacrifice and reward

Of the tight production deadline, Terblanche says journalism students are accustomed to working late nights and weekends as part of their demanding course. However, Terblanche had an added personal challenge as the production schedule coincided with a time of loss for her family. “Luckily our team worked really well together and were passionate about the doccie, so it kept spirits high.”

Adams also alludes to the late nights and personal sacrifices it took to finish the film. “I think the editing was one of the most stressful parts as we are all individuals with different creative ideas.” They all agree that the experience itself made the tight schedule more manageable. “We created a friendship along the way and built new relationships with some of the people from Hout Bay, in particular Aunty Monica and Uncle Witbrood, who are the stars of the documentary,” adds Bailey.

The four students, who graduated with their BA Honours in March, are “humbled” that what started as a class project has resonated with so many people and is being showcased to a wider audience. “Creating this project was truly something special and challenging at the same time, considering that none of us had created a documentary before,” says Paulus. “It honestly means the world that Encounters believed in this project and want to share it with the world.”

  • The documentary will be shown at Encounters in Cape Town at the Labia Theatre, Sunday 23 June at 10.30am and in Johannesburg on Saturday 29 June at 1:30pm