Next week, film-maker Jessie Zinn will be donning cap and gown at her UCT graduation ceremony – it will be yet another crowning achievement in what has been a remarkable few months for the 22 year old.
Together with sister Sarah, Zinn, has taken the world of cinema by storm with her short film Into Us and Ours, which paints a poignant picture of what it means to be part of South Africa’s born-free generation within the contexts of race, class and sexuality.
Not only did the film take home the Best International Short Film Award at the Ivy International Film Festival in America, it was also selected for the 69th Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner in May. This week, the film also won Best of Texas film at the Literally Short Film Festival in Texas.
The 13-minute production has also received top billing at festivals in Sweden, Berlin and Washington, at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth.
The film, which is produced by UCT, stars Qondiswa James and Emilie Badenhorst and features Faniswa Yisa and Nhlanla Mkhwanazi.
It charts the experience of two different, yet interconnected, born-frees and reflects the way the past can devour the present and future.
“I’ve been getting zero sleep, but the experience has been amazing,” Zinn told the Tatler earlier this week.
“In fact, I will be flying out to the Durban International Film Festival straight after my graduation next week.”
She said the success of the film was something she “never really expected to happen”, but it proved that people were enjoying South African stories.
“People talk about the new wave of South African film-makers, and I suppose I am part of that. It’s actually very interesting how this has all happened. I was meant to be doing my honours this year, but then the film started to get a lot of press and it became a full-time job. It took on a life of its own.
“I think what’s significant about the film is that it did not pander to preconceived notions international audiences might have about South Africa. What we tried to do with this film was show that the past is very present in the present time, to show that time is not isolated. It is a contemporary political film, that prompts people to ask what is going on in South Africa right now and how this relates to the past. It requires in-depth discussion.”
Prior to Into Us and Ours taking off, Zinn had been employed in the local film industry for some five months – an experience that taught her a lot about the realities of professional film production.
The gender pay gap has been a source of great contention in the American film industry in recent years, with Hollywood stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Sharon Stone, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep speaking out over wage disparities between men and women in Tinseltown. As a feminist, Zinn, was quick to notice that such disparities also existed locally.
“When you first arrive on a set, you see a lot of women, but you soon realise that many of them are personal assistants. And even though they are putting in longer hours than men, they are still being paid the same amount. It’s ridiculous.”
Given that she grew up in a very artistic home – her mother, Robyn, is a well-known theatre critic – Zinn has always had an affinity for actors, and in her endeavours she has sought to gain as much input from them as possible.
“I am a big believer in collaboration between the director and actors, and workshopping the stories you are telling. It is no good if you have instances where the actors are unable to understand or relate to the material.
“For me, visual storytelling is very important. You can have reams of dialogue, but it is the visual techniques that resonate most, particularly in a country like South Africa, where we have so many languages and there are so many diverse cultures.”
She acknowledged that for South Africa film-makers, getting funding was a considerable challenge.
“It’s obviously my dream to make a full-length feature. It’s not impossible, but you do need funding. You almost have to view film-making in two parts: the making of the film, and the networking with people at film festivals to obtain funding,” she said.
“A lot of people think that when a producer or director has a five-year gap between projects they are just sitting around. The reality is that between productions they are out there trying to get funding. It is also important to keep busy during those periods trying to improve your skills as a film-maker, editing and writing.”
In the next few months, Zinn and her team will be attending festivals all over the country, including Durban and the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.