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Learners shine a spotlight on local issues

Date Released: Mon, 1 October 2012 11:59 +0200

The Rhodes University Theatre was packed last Thursday (27 September) for the premier of 24 short films produced by third year television journalism students and learners from local high schools. The films aimed to highlight issues facing young people in Grahamstown today.

Each Rhodes student worked with one learner from the Upstart Youth Development Project to represent an issue that ‘ticks them off’. Briefed to reveal their young partners’ personality through the piece, the students stepped behind the camera and allowed the Upstarters to authentically voice their opinions.

“When we were doing the interviews, I just spoke (about) what I know about HIV. It was all my own words,” said Luthando Ncokothwane, one of the participants in the Upstart project. Television Production Manager in the school of Journalism and Media Studies (JMS), Paddy Donnelly, agreed. “There’s no acting here,” he said, “it is all real.”

Topics covered in the films ranged from peer-pressure and bullying to teenage pregnancy and abuse. Upstarter Phumelela Bunu tackled the issue of bad language together with student Heather Scott. Bunu explained her choice, “We decided to speak about strong language because many students at school use it and it is disrespectful.”

Another learner, Sisipho Phongolo, chose to share her experience of being lesbian in the Grahamstown community. “I saw that some people are ashamed of themselves so I thought I could talk about myself and my career because I am not (ashamed),” Phongolo said.

Many of the students involved commended the bravery of the Upstart learners in tackling these difficult issues. “When I was watching their stories, I kept thinking that they were so beautiful and that these kids were so young and so brave,” said third year television student Amaal Salie who worked with Upstarter Anathi Maswana to produce a film entitled Life After Abuse.

The type of participatory journalism used to produce the films seeks to make clear voices which are ordinarily absent from the media and to generate discussion around important issues. With this aim in mind, the films are due to be categorised and shared with relevant groups in screenings over the next few weeks.

Loud cheers and spontaneous clapping from the Upstarters present at Thursday’s premier indicated that they were happy with the final result of their work. “All of the videos were great,” said Siyamthanda Ndantyi, a learner who tackled gender equality together with student Brett de Groot. “It was a dream to watch my friend on screen talking about her true self,” Ndantyi said.

“I enjoyed every bit of it, too. Our partners were so nice and everything was so awesome,” added Upstarter Siphokuhle Tata, who featured in a film that dealt with the issue of teenage pregnancy.

Donnelly agreed that the event was a success. “It was a world premier and it was fantastic,” he said.

“The learners’ response was worth everything. Any image of Grahamstown and anything they recognised, from a character to a shop to a donkey, got a cheer. It was so immediate.”

Photo and story by Kyla Hazell