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Behind the Camera with Zandi Tisani

The award-winning director shares her journey on becoming a trail-blazing filmmaker

Young, gifted and on the pulse. Director Zandi Tisani lets us in on where it all started.

I grew up as an extremely avid reader. I learned to read before I started school so books and storytelling have always been an important part of my life. Throughout school, drama and acting became my thing, and for my final matric project I created a multi-media production on South African hip hop. It was pretty bad, but it was the first time I ever shot and produced something. It’s all just been one preoccupation leading me to the next.   

 It all started when my friend’s mother had the films Boomerang and She’s Gotta Have It on VHS and we watched them a lot. Part of the thrill was watching what we weren’t actually allowed to watch. Watching music videos on Studio Mix on a Friday night and Zero Hour Zone, I wasn’t aware of it, but that’s where the fascination with this kind of image-making developed. In fact, I very clearly remember seeing the first Destiny’s Child video here. Like most kids I taped my favourite videos and watched them over and over again. In terms of my visual consumption, that was a pretty seminal moment and drove my interest in popular culture and its visual representation.       

One of the first things I made was the video for Zaki Ibrahim’s song, Go Widdit. Once again I didn’t know what I was doing but I wanted to do it. I had a lot of production support, which is something new directors rarely get, so I was pretty lucky. But working on set as a wardrobe assistant is where I learned all my set decorum and watching everything that was going on. There are no small jobs on set; new directors need to learn the value of starting from the bottom.     

My latest project was a commercial one for Entitled Show Them, the idea was to create a narrative for the fashion brand that felt real to Joburg and South Africa at large.

If I had the opportunity to remake a classic, it would the film Mermaids with Cher, Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci. It would be great to update it to reflect current dynamics of womanhood.

For female filmmakers, it is difficult to say if the creative landscape is getting better for us because this is the only landscape I know. One can only hope the work I do contributes towards making it better.

Being a filmmaker is challenging, period. It’s a tough industry, and physically, mentally and emotionally challenging. Learning not to panic has been my biggest challenge.

The best advice I have ever received is to look left and right before crossing the road.

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