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Durban Festival: ‘My Hood’s’ Fresh Take on Docs

“My Hood,” a new series of six short films, takes an insider’s view of the transforming South African urban landscape, a landscape transformed by a post-apartheid influx of people seeking to make a living in the cities — Johannesburg in particular — that were once sharptly divided.

“My Hood,” which screens July 19 at the Durban festival, takes on the hopeful theme of ownership, “but I think overall the series reflects the level of poverty that exists today,” says the series producer Lauren Groenewald.

But “My Hood” is not intended to be a collective meditation on poverty. In fact it takes an experimental, collective approach to short filmmaking that consciously works against bland social messaging.

Pic came out of the Close Encounters Laboratoy, an initiative of the Encounters documentary film festival, and was planned as a concept, “broad enough to give people space to be free, and have their own language in a place they knew quite intimately,” Groenewald says.

“We were hoping for filmmakers to come in with a leftfield approach to filmmaking. So it wasn’t going to be an insert. It wasn’t going to be an investigation but rather something that was, not impressionistic but something that would have more layers than just a report.”

The team included filmmaker Brian Tilley, who had just graduated from another high-profile series of shorts, made internationally. The “Why Poverty?” series (whypoverty.net) consisted of eight documentaries from award-winning filmmakers and more than 30 shorts from new and emerging talents. Over 70 international broadcasters aired “Why Poverty?” in 2012.

But “My Hood” had to be different.

“We were looking for an idea that would allow people to reflect their own experiences of a particular neighborhood. It could be a street, it could be your immediate home life, it could be as narrow or as broad as the filmmakers’ saw fit,” said Groenewald. “We were hoping to get something that would be quite intimate, with a unique access.”

Not all the shorts are about the city. There is an interpretation of dormitory life among the working people of Soweto and even a look at a Moravian mission station founded by emancipated slaves almost two centuries ago. A National heritage site, the village of Elim is a community that’s been quite isolated for 200 years.

Groenewald says the segment, titled “Net Een Elim” (Only One Elim), “explores the notion of belonging, since filmmaker Nadine Cloete’s ancestors all come from the village.”

“My Hood” was funded by the National Lottery. Groenewald, who teaches digital filmmaking in Cape Town, is co-owner of the Plexus Film Production Co. with partner Nikki Redlingshuys.

Recently, the company worked with TV2 in Norway producing a 46-minute documentary titled “New Land,” which followed an expedition into the Canadian Arctic following the footsteps of 19th century Norweigan explorer Otto Zvedrup. The work has been edited into a 54-minute version now called the “Mystery of the Arctic Cairns.”

“My Hood” is alos being sold at Durban’s film market.

“I find it quite tragic that we’re going there and in terms of national broadcast that there’s very little scope,” she says. “I think that stories like the ‘My Hood’ series have legs, and they have got festival life. But it is really important that they are seen by local audiences.”

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