SAFTA for best student film goes to...The Water Dancers

12 Mar 2019 - 13:15

The Water Dancers team won their first SAFTA at the thirteenth annual South African Film and Television Awards on 2 March 2019. The film was directed by Robyn Palmer and produced by Daniel Ndevu. Co-edited by Erin Macpherson and Michael Dawson, with Tessa Barlin as the cinematographer, this thirty-minute environmental documentary formed part of the teams 2017 Honours project for the Centre for Film and Media Studies (CFMS) at the University of Cape Town.

Conceptualised by Tessa Barlin, The Water Dancers encompasses the importance of conservation whilst exploring sustainable solutions to the on-going water crises. Moreover, the documentary focuses on dragonflies as they are key species which indicate the health of an environment. The film also looks at a method of conservation called ecological networks which are representations of the biotic interactions in an ecosystem, in which various species are connected by pairwise interactions.

Initial preparation in the pre-production phase included concept pitching, researching, and composing a written proposal. Once they had decided on the logistics, the information had to be reviewed by a panel of judges at UCT. It was at this point where feedback was given back to the team.

While the team had an opportunity to travel to KwaZulu-Natal to shoot certain footage within the first semester of their Honours programme, many aspects of production mainly occurred from the second semester onwards. At the end of 2017, The Water Dancers team eventually managed to submit an extremely polished documentary that ultimately enabled them to achieve their goal of encouraging people to fall in love with nature again.

Nevertheless, the team was not granted an uncomplicated road to success as they were presented with a few challenges along the way. This was evident by the nominal budget which was allocated to each team member for the production of the film. The team was able to overcome this challenge by engaging in many fundraising events while networking with Stellenbosch University and other corporate partners. Moreover, it was only during the post-production phase that the team came up with the concept of the documentary being narrated by a dragonfly. The Water Dancers team had to therefore adjust to this unplanned change under a heavy time constraint.

Their hard work and dedication payed off when UCT submitted The Water Dancers to the SAFTAs. Upon receiving the SAFTA, Robyn Palmer uttered a sentiment regarding the team’s experiences by saying: “We have literally gone from sleeping on tripod bags in the editing studio to winning a SAFTA”. Julia Cain, the team’s supervisor during their Honour’s year, remarked: “UCT considers itself lucky to have had talented students over the years” and that The Water Dancers team’s achievement is “fantastic for the film department”.

Since screening at the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) in 2018, the film has gone on to screen at the Cape Town International Film Market and Festival (CTIFM&F), as well as the Jozi Film Festival.  It premiered internationally at the International Green Film Festival in Poland and then went on to screen in Rwanda, Kenya, Burkina Faso and Namibia as part of the Goethe Institute’s Science Film Festival.  The film is also due to screen at more film festivals during this upcoming year.

In the near future, The Water Dancers team hopes to launch an impact campaign called #TheSmallThingsMatter, as well as The Water Dancers online store where a coffee table book consisting of photographs taken during the production of the documentary will be sold.

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