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Friday, November 1, 2013


(Jahmil XT Qubeka. Pic: Timmy Henny)

The National Arts Festival has named an unprecedented eight young South Africans winners of the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award, bringing to 125 the total number honoured since Standard Bank began sponsoring the Awards three decades ago.

The Award is made annually to young South African artists who are either on the threshold of national acclaim, or whose artistic excellence has enabled them to make international breakthroughs. “Celebrating excellence, innovation and a refined technical skill and artistry rests at the heart of the Standard Bank Young Artist Awards. Each of this year’s winners represent the vibrancy and sophistication with which South Africa’s artistic and cultural legacy continues to be enriched” said Festival Artistic Director, Ismail Mahomed.

Free-spirited filmmaker Jahmil XT Qubeka is the winner of the 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Film.

Born in the Karoo and raised in East London, Qubeka’s films have screened in LA, San Francisco, New York, Florida, Cannes, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Warsaw, Egypt, Nigeria, Zanzibar, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Busan in South Korea and Mumbai in India. He credits his filmmaking education to his mentor, fashion photographer and filmmaker Daron Chatz.

His HIV documentary Talk To Me (2005) won five international awards including a George Foster Peabody Award (for broadcasting), The Rose D’Or (Social Awareness Award), The Japan Prize (Best programme: education category) and awards at The Chicago International Film Festival (Gold Hugo Award), and World Media Festival (Gold Intermedia-globe).

He produced, co-wrote, and photographed the feature uMalusi (2009) before making his feature directorial debut with A Small Town Called Descent (2010). He has also made documentaries, television dramas and numerous commercials and music videos. His latest film, Of Good Report (2013) made international headlines when its premiere at the Opening of the 2013 Durban International Film Festival was prevented by censorship from the Film and Publications Board. (The ban has since been lifted.)

“My life has always been plagued by struggle and fight,” explains 34 year-old Qubeka. “I am a loner, I am also an anarchist as well as a narcissist at heart. However, becoming a father has evolved my perspective of life and what is important. What informs my work is my passion for the genesis of humanity - where we truly come from, why we are the way we are and where we are going.”

Profoundly affected by his own father’s suicide when he was just 13, he says: “If there is anything I want to pass on to my children, it is that there is no intermediary between them and their creator. Deep down, only they know why they are here, all I can do is support their endeavours.”

Qubeka talks about his proudest moment: “In the seventh grade I wrote, starred and directed a play loosely based on the King Arthur legend. My group got the highest score on this drama assignment. We took the audience by storm that day. We got a standing ovation that brought tears to my eyes. It's the only thing I have ever done creatively where I was fully satisfied by my efforts. We would have gotten full marks if Merlin's beard had not fallen off!”

Qubeka says he’s always known that he is an artist and a storyteller, and that it was evident from an early age. His father was wealthy at a time when Black people in South Africa were ”not allowed to be rich”. His wealth – garnered mostly through somewhat nefarious means - allowed the young Jahmil to indulge his passion for film; and between the ages of 7 and 13, he devoured cinema to the point that he was a walking, talking film encyclopaedia. In primary school, he once got into trouble for lending bootleg copies of movies out to friends. At the time he didn't understand what the fuss was all about, but in retrospect, concedes that kids in the 5th grade had no business watching films like 9 1/2 Weeks, Blue Velvet or the banned version of Lady Chatterley's Lover. He admits to negotiating his way out of it by supplying his teacher with a copy of Basic Instinct.

Qubeka undertook a train journey from Johannesburg with “a bunch of mates” 13 years ago, for his first trip to the National Arts Festival. “What I encountered was an enveloping and eclectic experience that will forever be with me. The Festival is at the core of local artistic expression. It is the very pulse of South African artistic endeavour.” he explains.

That trip coincided with the genesis of his career as a filmmaker: “I have been a filmmaker for thirteen years now, to have your work recognised in such a manner is the ultimate form of affirmation.” he says, on winning the Young Artist Award. “What makes it even more special is that it's recognition from outside my own industry. The path of a maverick is usually a lonely one where affirmation does not come easily.”