At this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in the south of France, South Africans made history be bringing home three Cannes Golds in the categories of health, entertainment and film. One of the winners was maverick director SJ Myeza-Mhlambi of 7Films – a multi-award-winning production house – who eloquently shares the stories of South Africans. He shared his thoughts on how being from the continent shapes his storytelling and how travel continues to influences him.
Myeza-Mhlambi – an AFDA graduate – began to hone his craft as a director at 7Films in 2015 under the wing of owner and respected director Lourens van Rensburg. His passion lies in bringing communities’ ideas and stories to the forefront of society. On bringing about a unique narrative to the stories he tells, he says: “I am a firm believer that you can’t teach talent. I don’t think you can copy a vision – it’s a collection of your experiences that can only be yours.”
7Films, having worked on Y&R SA’s “Chasing the dragon” for SurfShack which was directed by SJ, won the sought-after Gold Lion in the Health & Wellness category – a momentous achievement. Furthermore, a Silver in the Young Director Awards for Dirk van Niekerk’s “Dead Fish Eyes” and a Bronze Lion under Film Craft for the Western Cape Government road safety’s “Everybody knows”, directed by Lourens van Rensburg, were added to the agency AND 7Films’ achievements.
Myeza-Mhlambi’s background is one of challenges faced and conquered. Having lost his mother at a young age, he was raised by his aunt and uncle. “I have a colourful background, so I try to use those experience as a compass and a lens for my storytelling. I don’t have a formula, I try to stay true to who I am and always make sure that my work is selfless and makes a difference – whether it is a cry, a smile, or even a giggle,” he says.
Travel is another factor that’s shaped his perspective of the world around him and how he sees it. In Myeza-Mhlambi’s work, its influence takes form in how he shoots certain content to ensure it’s palatable in certain areas of the world. “Due to this I always try and treat my work with more respect for the cultures I’m depicting. The audience of the region comes first and it is important to research how you plan to depict these cultures so that it resonates with them and at the same time that it appeals to a global market too. This is a fine balance I have had to learn.” As a individual, Myeza-Mhlambi says travelling has made him more sensitive to towards people and traditions. “It’s nice to travel, but you don’t need to leave the country to do so. Ask more questions and “travel the people” around you; you will be at surprised what you can learn about the world.”
On what makes the African experience unique in defining one’s identity, creating content and telling stories, Myeza-Mhlambi says, “Every country has its own flavour. Having travelled to different continents, my favourite thing about Africa is its flair and rich culture. There is a big culture of storytelling and dance which gives us our identity. The way Africans communicate is my favourite thing. It’s always such a pleasant experience – you can hear the rhythm in the everyday bustle and hustle, and it is contagious.
“There are a lot of stories in us which just need to be tapped. I really believe that that is the one African mineral that hasn’t been mined fully – our stories. This is slowly happening more and more and it’s something that seems to be doing really well in our content at the moment,” he explains.
Overseeing the film side of things, Myeza-Mhlambi is also involved in Blackboard, the brainchild of Nkanyezi Masango aimed at creating a more racially diverse creative sector by introducing township school students to creative careers. “We’re giving learners the opportunity to learn about the creative arena in a hands-on way. We’re giving them the opportunity to make an informed decision about the industry and the opportunity to choose media and film as a viable career choice.”
Myeza-Mhlambi concludes that he is always working on something new, and congratulates his team for also recently winning five Loerie awards, and a Grand Prix. “It’s really exciting being part of and having ownership of such a company that illuminates the value of giving back, building up and doing meaningful work – well done, team! Let’s have an even bigger and better year in 2018.”
See more of Myeza-Mhlambi’s work on the 7Films website.