Documenting communities from San Diego to GrahamstownDate Released: Tue, 2 August 2016 08:55 +0200
By Ettioné Ferreira
Mark Freeman, a documentary filmmaker from San Diego State University, was in residence at Rhodes JMS for six weeks. Freeman, a professor at the School of Theatre, Television and Film was encouraged by a South African friend to travel to South Africa. He came to Rhodes as a Fulbright Specialist and as a recipient of a Hugh le May Fellowship. Freeman has always been interested in film. As a student he studied liberal arts and came to the realisation that independent filmmaking was an alternative to Hollywood. Documentary film-making, he says, “lets me invite myself into people’s lives in ways I would never be able to otherwise.”
He has been a filmmaker and educator for more than 30 years, and has made documentaries ranging from portraits of indigenous weavers in the Ecuadorian Andes to a homeless news hawker in Edmund’s Island. Freeman seeks out untold stories, giving communities a voice.
During a research seminar at JMS he explained the importance of community partnerships in using video for social change. He also recognises that there are differences between community-based production in the US and South Africa. Financial support for NGOs and community work is much harder to get here. However, Freeman does see the high level of enthusiasm people have for working with communities here as a positive.
Freeman was also in Grahamstown for the National Arts Festival. “My work has evolved over the years from political, social commentary to interest in the performing arts,” he says. While at Rhodes he has shot a documentary about contemporary South African dance. Rhodes JMS helped with the facilities and also provided an opportunity for Freeman to work with Smangaliso Ngwenya, a fourth-year BJourn student specialising in television. “I’ve encouraged him to go to graduate school with the hope that what he might learn in the States will be useful when he returns to South Africa.”
It wasn’t all work for Freeman while he was in South Africa. He had some time to visit the Addo National Park and to visit Cape Town. During his visit there he met up with JMS radio lecturer Shepi Mati who showed him around and took him to the District Six Museum.
He also met with JMS teachers to discuss the possibility of creating a MA or MFA or degree with a focus on production. His expertise has made a useful contribution and the School hopes to keep in touch with Freeman and San Diego State University in the future.