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SA filmmaker thrives at Jerusalem Film Festival




Motaung, still a student, was chosen as one of 24 filmmakers from around the world to go to Israel to showcase their work at the Jerusalem Film Festival in August. A major event for filmmakers, the festival is the leading platform in Israel for presenting the latest cinematic trends to local and international audiences.

Motaung and the other members of the group took part in the Jerusalem Film Workshop, a five-week summer programme designed to enhance their skills. In groups of four, they produced short films in the ancient village of Ein Kerem, today a hub for Israeli artists.

Motaung is a secular Christian who was raised on the East Rand. He says he knew little about Israel, but saw the trip as an opportunity to access unique stories previously untapped. “It was a chance to get into a new space, learn about the people who live in it, and find a way to tell their stories,” he says. “I could step into another world, and listen to different voices.”

Motaung left for Israel at the end of July, sponsored by Tararam, the SA Israel culture fund. From the moment he arrived, he had his work cut out for him. “You don’t have the luxury of time at all,” he told the SA Jewish Report. “Each group was given context and a character to create their film, and they got to it.”

Motaung worked with three other participants from abroad to create My Playground, a film centred on the Hadassah Hospital Children’s Ward and Dr Saar Hashavya, an emergency rescue specialist. This doctor handles the daily confrontations and challenges of working in trauma by developing his inner child.

“Essentially, he’s a child figure in a hospital environment,” says Motaung, who was selected as director. “He has found a way to deal with the trauma which surrounds him daily by working [with an attitude of childish innocence]. There’s something universal in what he goes through.”

The relatability of Saar’s narrative was further enhanced by the film’s setting – Jerusalem. Motaung says Jerusalem brings together people from different walks of life and across the religious spectrum in a unique space where their identities became part of a narrative.

“Your space reflects who you are,” says Motaung. “In Israel, religion informs so much, even hospital culture. It creates a holistic view of healing, and looks at people in terms of their different facets. Each person and story is different, and that’s reflected in the space around them.”

While producing the film, workshop participants explored and visited Jerusalem’s environs, including the Old City and West Bank. Motaung found Israelis to be upfront and proud about their narrative.

“Israelis don’t beat around the bush,” he says. “I experienced a sense of truth when interacting with them. They take pride in being upfront with you, and know what their story is. They are proud of their stories, and know who they are.”

Belief in one’s story is something he has brought back to South Africa. He wants more people here to bring their unusual and unique stories to the fore, and take pride in them.

He says that only by reaching beyond the immediate and tapping into stories from further afield can we gain a holistic understanding of others. This way, we can open new doors of understanding.

“We really have it all here,” he says. “Our country is rich in stories. We can all learn from the spectrum of experience available to us. We can learn by merging our worlds, and using our stories to discover universal aspects of human experience.”

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