Exclusive: Director Sara Blecher Talks New Film ‘Ayanda’

AYANDA is a coming-of-age story that takes us into a vibrant Johannesburg community alive with love and humor, risk and reward, tragedy and triumph.

Blecher centers the film on a young woman’s journey of self-discovery as she struggles to save her father’s car repair shop along with her memory of him.  This film held its world premiere screening at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival winning the Special Jury Prize in the World Fiction Competition. Read what Blecher had to say about the project below:

 What was the inspiration behind making the film?

Five years ago I went to see Juno with my then 15-year-old daughter. I watched her transform while she watched that film. For the first time in her life she was given an alternate role model. Someone to emulate who was beyond any of the possibilities she had previously considered for herself. I wanted to make a film that would do the same thing for young African women.

How do you feel that women empowerment plays a part with the main character Ayanda?

It is rare to find a strong female protagonist in African films who isn’t a victim of circumstances but rather who grapples with her issues and tries to overcome them. Merely presenting such a character, as an alternate potential role model in such a climate is a political act; its an act that even if it inspires just one young girl, can make a difference in terms of women empowerment. But perhaps more importantly Ayanda herself, doesn’t like so many other female characters trade in sex or her looks. Instead she plays on the more masculine playing field of a mechanics garage, and like so many other real women in the world, shows that nothing has to be, any longer, solely the preserve of men.

This film is very organic in its representation of ever day local life. Why do you think this is important to portray?

AYANDA tries to present a different way of looking at Africa; one that doesn’t gaze at violence, and poverty and disease – but instead turns to look at what it means to be human in this continent. Presenting everyday life is a critical part of achieving this. AYANDA aims to capture a vividly contemporary view of SouthAfrica, Inspired by the possibilities of a modern African aesthetic – something that would be impossible to achieve without also showing the banality of everyday life.

In the film I noticed some elements become vibrant illustrations. What was the intention for that?

We wanted to find a way of getting inside Ayanda’s head and showing the vibrancy and creativity of her thinking. This animation was an attempt to do this.

What sets this apart from any other film you’ve made?

This film was a real exploration of both story structure and form for me. It is a real extension of the thinking I’ve been doing around the confluence between documentary and narrative film. In this way , perhaps it isn’t very different from my previous film OTELO BURNING, but it certainly is an advancement in my thinking around this. We also really celebrate colour and the vibrancy of African life in AYANDA. This is very different from any of my previous work that like so many other African films, chose rather to focus on violence.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in directing?

For me the toughest and most important job that a director needs to do is to inspire her team. To make them all produce the best and most creative work they can. Learning how to balance this, with ensuring your vision is adhered to, is a real challenge. SO the best advice I can give is learn to listen. In my experience this is only way to achieve both of these things at the same time.

What message would you like the audience to understand when watching the film?

I believe very strongly that when a family (or a country) suffer a huge trauma – like Ayanda’s fathers death in the film, or Apartheid in my countries history – then the only real way you can ever recover is by revisiting the trauma from a place of maturity. It’s only then they you are ever free to move into the future. In the film Ayanda has to go on a long journey before she is able to finally comprehend what really happened on the day her dad died, and thus be free to finally let him go. In a similar way I believe that we in South Africa are stuck. After apartheid ended Mandela came along with his ideas of reconciliation and forgiveness. At the time these were important ideas that prevented the country from descending into a vicious bloodbath, but sadly they have also meant that we as a country have never fully grappled with the trauma we suffered under apartheid. I think it’s only now, twenty years after democracy, that we are finally in a position when we can confront some of these questions and revisit this period in a way that will allow us to move into the future unencumbered. If there is a message in the film it is this.

On a lighter note, I love collecting quotes. Like tweets they’re succinct ways of saying so much with so few words.

My favorite one of the moment is …

“LEAVE ROOM IN YOUR HEAD FOR THE UNIMAGINABLE” which comes from the American Poet Mary Oliver. It reminds me to keep my eyes open. To look for surprises in the world. I think people should watch Ayanda because it might surprise them.

The film opens in LA and New York on November 13 and expands to other cities. For city listing and showtimes please visit www.arraynow.com.

 OPENING WEEK THEATRICAL ENGAGEMENTS:

AYANDA

Starting 11/13              Los Angeles                Downtown Independent

Starting 11/13              New York                    Imagenation RAW Space

Starting 11/18              New York                    Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

ONE-NIGHT TOUR ENGAGEMENTS:

AYANDA
11/13               Washington DC           Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African Art
11/14               Atlanta, GA                 Georgia Pacific Auditorium presented by Bronzelens

11/17               Philadelphia, PA          African American Museum presented by Reelblack

11/19 Houston, TX Houston Museum of African American Culture

11/22               Montgomery, AL         Pure Artistry Literary Café
11/24               Seattle, WA                 Ark Lodge Cinema

12/01               Calabash, NC             South Brunswick Islands Center

12/05               Boston, MA                 Reel Life Experience at Arts Emerson
12/05               Greensboro, NC         The Artist Bloc

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