Film interview: Cape Town film maker, Wisaal Abrahams who is co-producer of The Art Of Fallism, talks about creating this compelling documentary which is a South African/Norwedgian collaboration

? The African premiere of The Art Of  Fallism is taking place at the 41st Durban International Film Festival which is online from September 10 to 20, 2020 ? Wisaal Abrahams spoke about the film with co-producer Ingvild Aagedal Skage, at DFM 2020 – the virtual edition of Durban Film Mart.

Cape Town film maker Wisaal Abrahams is co-producer of The Art Of  Fallism – a pioneering documentary film which casts its gaze on Fallist movements in South Africa – sparked by #RhodesMustFall in 2015. This remarkable film straddles multiple genres – political, historical, narrative documentary, art film, methodology film – and more.  It is film which is intensely personal; complex and frequently uncomfortable. It embraces diversity, difference and the vital need to address dissent and give space to queer and trans perspectives which challenge binary male centred patriarchal modes which tend to dominate historical movements. Yup, they do. The film is testament to how international film collaborations can take place, without diluting and appropriating the voices of those at the heart of the story. Cape Town based Abrahams worked with Norwegian co-producer, Ingvild Aagedal Skage for three years in creating this film. The directors are Aslaug Aarsæther (Norway) and Gunnbjørg Gunnarsdóttir (Norway/Iceland).

Abrahams spoke at DFM 2020 – the virtual edition of Durban Film Market – with her co-producer Ingvild Aagedal Skage about the genesis and the journey of the film. The discussion was moderated by Oris Aigbokhaevbolo. A “producer” is often seen as the money and financial person but Abrahams was cognisant of her role as Guardian and that in the process of making the film, there needed to be a constant creative audit which mirrored the trajectory of the Fallist movements in South Africa. The film she sees as a “pedagogy” – as a methodology – for others to watch and learn so when they are involved in activist movements, they can reflect on their personal bias, identity and be constantly auditing – politically, creatively and personally.

TheCapeRobyn:  How did a team of Norwegians get to be involved in documenting Fallism in South Africa with your company?

Wisaal Abrahams: The Norwegian director and producer were following the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movement online and were very moved by the courage and the topics that were being covered by the young South Africans. It was then that they decided to come to SA and make a documentary that would enable these conversations in Norway, where the political climate surrounding refugees, race, prejudice, religion and immigration of non-whites into Norway has been festering.

They arrived in SA only to find that no one would agree to work with them due to their whiteness.  This is when they found my contact through a mutual Norwegian colleague. We agreed to meet and I thoroughly interrogated their intentions for wanting to make the film. After much discussion, we agreed that I would stand as Guardian for the film as the co-producer, meaning I would ensure that those intentions were upheld and the manner of the production would be tailored to serve South Africa and not extract from her.

TheCapeRobyn: The film has a very distinctive South African – African voice or voices. The directors – are Norwegians- outsiders – and they came in and worked with you and all those on the ground – inside – in South Africa? 

Wisaal Abrahams: The team was largely made up of women and Queer artists and activists.  All in all we had one male on the technical team and later in post-production  The queer leadership of our team ensured that we were able to debunk approaches that were expected of us as film makers and collaborate in a way that ensured our creative safety at all times.  My role as Guardian to the film ensured that the distance between Norwegian vision and  the South African truth was harmonized, with the power dynamics balanced we were then able to conceptualize together and allow the film to guide us rather than force the original theories of the Norwegians. 

TheCapeRobyn: Can you talk about the process involved – as producer – in getting in the funding to make this ambitious and multi layered film- everything from research to music; use of footage, sound mix, colour grading?

Wisaal Abrahams: From my side I cannot take credit for acquiring the funds or the stamina for seeing the project to completion, that was all Ingvild and the support of the institutions in Norway.  It was definitely intentional to showcase the process of Fallism rather than trying to document the movement as a whole. It was incredibly intentional to showcase the spirit of young artists at that time and what was surfacing in the collective consciousness.  When we were struggling to find a name for the film and after I was sent the first cut from Norway, it was then that I saw “The Art of Fallism” is what we were actually making.  But the access to funds, the time and energy and guts to knock on doors for money and the collaborations during post in Norway by a brilliant team of editors, musicians and artists who often came on board for absolutely nothing purely for the love of the project – that is all credit due to our Norwegian producer. 

TheCapeRobyn: Can you talk about the artistic process – the process of imaging the film – interweaving the personal, political, creative? 

Wisaal Abrahams: The film was always going to be uneasy as all revolutionary processes should be, so the idea was to match that energy.  The twist came during shooting when we decided to give the film a Queer direction, as this was not the original plan, but was clearly becoming that as we continued to uncover the stories of the activists and artists. We found the film speaks more like a methodology to revolutionary process rather than a story of a student struggle. The talented team of post-production experts in Norway and their dedication to assisting our producer and director was absolutely priceless.

TheCapeRobyn: Here we are in the pandemic and the national lockdown, we are watching The Art of Fallism. UCT is shuttered. Schools have been closed. For many youngsters, the school year has been effectively lost.  We have seen the increase of GBV and womxn in general have been shunted aside. Any plans to make a follow up film?

Wisaal Abrahams: This is a very good question Robyn! And you may have lit a match now… haha.  For now, no plans for a follow up are on the cards, we do have a new doccie in research phase which is more around art and repatriation and is completely different but just as terrifyingly beautiful in its truth.

We are very moved by what is happening around the world following suit of what begun at UCT years ago, the pulling down of colonial statues and the rise of womxn’s voices around violence.  The presence or absence of the LGBTQIA+ community within leadership and systems design for our societies… all burdens the Millennial generation inherited and are absolutely cut out to carry.  Once we find a way to balance our anxiety and personal wounding, I have every confidence that the youth of today will be our answer to resounding change for the inclusivity of a new world design.

TheCapeRobyn: The film is premiering in Africa at DIFF. It premiered at HOTDOCS in Canada. What is next – will it be available on general release?

Wisaal Abrahams: Currently the film is in the festival touring phase. We have signed a sales agent from Arthouse Cinematheque who is managing all of this, hopefully if the pandemic slows down we can expect a general release. For now we are just enjoying our film being showcased to the Global Village.