Photography by Jamal Nxedlana

Authentic storytelling and experimental cinematics: a conversation with filmmaker Zandi Tisani

“Find what you love and let it kill you”

This quote from Charles Bukowski is Zandi Tisani‘s favourite quote, and quite fittingly came up in our conversation about her journey as a filmmaker. Discovering her love for film did not come from one particular moment, but rather from a series of related events. The desire to be a storyteller has always burned fiercely in her heart, and so she studied film and media at varsity. Screenwriting seemed like the perfect way to have this desire manifest itself, and this became Zandi’s first step into the world of film. After varsity she studied photography for two years. Armed with training in visual and literary fields, she got to work.

After moving to Joburg from Cape Town the only work she could get was as a stylist on sets. This was another step towards her filmmaker career. Through styling she was able to make a home for herself on sets – the space she now feels most comfortable. Her first attempt at directing came from the Zaki Ibrahim video Go With It in 2012. From that video she gained confidence in knowing that she has a vision, and an interest in exploring parts of herself through film.

Zandi works under the company Goodcop, and the focus on her own work began with the comedy drama Heroes in 2014. The birth of this short film came from a lingering memory of her family being the first black family to move into her street in the 80s when the Group Areas Act was being dismantled. Developing from that memory, Heroes is about a man who moves into his father’s house and the community discover that there will be a black family moving into their street. It is intended to be a commentary on white male masculinity and the kind of inherent violence in the idea of being a hero and saving the community from this ‘threat’. Right on the heel of Heroes Zandile did a documentary as part of a project called My Hood. Living in Yeoville at the time, Zandi did extensive research, which resulted in the experimental documentary Highlands that looks at the history of the area.

Zandi then spent two years writing for South African television, but during this time she was getting increasingly frustrated with writing for what she describes as “typical South African tv”. This inspired her to write the pilot for her own show titled People You May Know. “People You May Know is very much about my generation,” Zandi explains, “People who are kids who graduated around the time of the recession. Stepped out into a world that wasn’t able to accommodate them, you know. They went to varsity and did all the stuff that people tell you to do to secure a stable lifestyle, and we found ourselves coming into an unstable world.”. This web series is intended to show the real struggles and anxieties that come with being part of this generation. “I just feel like when I  see my people on South African television, I feel like I don’t see people who are like me. I feel like people from my generation are [presented in a] very sterile manner, [with] aspirational ways of framing our lifestyles,” Zandi continues. People You May Know therefore aims to speak back to this by presenting an authentic view on young people in South Africa trying to sustain and grow themselves.

“The way I get into a story is to look at who it happened to, so it’s very much about people, and I suppose me trying to understand people, and me trying to understand myself through that process.”. For Zandi the most exciting part about working in film is the entire creative process. “You can’t do it alone,” Zandi explains, “You have to keep sharing it with people. And as you share it with people it becomes a new thing…whatever vision I have in mind and however excited I am, I know for a fact that it is not going to end up being exactly that thing…it [the final film] will be as much a surprise or a discovery to me as it will be for the audience.”.

Zandi explains that being part of the first wave of filmmakers to re-work stereotypical South African narratives has been challenging. “I think as South African’s we have a very particular way of speaking about ourselves and our narrative. I think we still see ourselves very much as these tropes and there is very little room for things to fall in between,” Zandi explains. For her our conservatism as a country overflows into our techniques and characters in storytelling. This filters into the kind of content that is produced for television. Zandi is interested in engaging with South African conservatism and offering content that challenges audiences. “You can’t quantify what a story can do or how people will respond. You kind of have to have the courage to put it out there anyway”.

Zandi is most excited about the independent work she will be doing as part of her collective People You May Know, which at the moment includes one other member, photographer Gonste More. “I want to give myself room to do something that is a little bit more raw and little bit more about exploring the art form of cinema, as opposed to seeing it as a vehicle for selling things or selling ideas,” Zandi explains. She is also excited about developing her feature film. Generally, Zandi is working towards building her own style of filmmaking and trying to understand herself better through that process.

To keep up with what Zandi is up to and to find out when Goodcop will be re-launching their website, check her out on Twitter.

zandi tisani x bubblegum club 2

Look 1: Zandi wears pink coat by H&M, choker top by Topshop, accessories are models own

Look 2: Zandi wears sheer dress by Topshop, accessories are models own

Photography and styling by Jamal Nxedlana

Makeup by Orli Meiri

Stylist’s assistant – Hazel Kimani

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