NEWF winners share their passion through conservation storytelling

The Nature, Environment and Wildlife Filmmakers Congress (NEWF) took place in Durban's Botanic Gardens last week in its second year running.

The congress inspired discussion driven on the topic of natural resource conservation within the African context while still promoting a growing awareness of the natural environment and the dire need for its protection. 

Some of the major supporting organisations that ensured the success of the congress included: Grindrod Bank and WILDTRUST

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2018 Judge and Grindrod representative Sarah Freestone says NEWF recognises the value and potential impact that a film can have - not just on the lives of young and upcoming filmmaking fundis and the local doccie industry scene, but on conservation efforts themselves.

While the judging panel were given specific criteria for evaluating the short documentary pitches, Freestone said that it was the passion of each pitch that stood out among those selected.

"We're excited about young peoples' passion for conservation and using that passion to tell stories about people engaging with the environment. At Grindrod Bank we believe in the power of human capital, and this can only be done when you follow your passions," she says.

Lauren van Nijkerk, Deputy Director of Marketing for the WILDTRUST said that they are in the process of working with NEWF to produce a very exciting documentary series titled: Our Oceans which is set to be released next year.

"The congress this year was bigger and better and the variety of environmental and wildlife content, as well as story 'opportunity' that was presented to the delegates, was phenomenal," said van Nijkerk.

She added that the energy and the passion in the room each day was electric. "I definitely feel inspired to go forth and tell some more stories through film," van Nijkerk concluded.

The story element forms part of the NEWF Congress's N.E.W Pitch programme. 

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What is the N.E.W Pitch?

According to NEWF's website, the NEWF N.E.W Pitch is a short documentary pitching competition which is aimed at discovering the next generation of nature, environment, wildlife conservation filmmakers.

The N.E.W Pitch is one of the key sessions that take place at the Nature Environment and Wildlife Filmmakers Congress (NEWF) and forms part of Durban's mid-year extensive focus on film - a focus which takes place all over the city. 

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Who are this year's winners?

From all of the entrants, nine finalists were selected at the congress and invited to participate in the pitching session before the live judging panel. 

The finalists were:

  • Londiwe Shange 
  • Liana Hassim
  • Emily Cross
  • Myles Arendse
  • Surprise Matlaila
  • Tumo Maokisa
  • Jessica Singh
  • Tessa Barlin
  • Brian Khawhula

The four winners for 2018 are:

  • Tessa Barlin for her film Becoming One,
  • Emily Cross for Part of the Pack,
  • Londiwe Shange for Toxic Relations and lastly
  • Jessica Singh for her film Epic Encounters
NEWF Congress winners

NEW PITCH winners (LEFT TO RIGHT) Jessica Singh for her film “Epic Encounters”, Londiwe Shange for “Toxic Relations”, Tessa Barlin for “Becoming One” and Emily Cross for “Part of the Pack”. (Photo: Harry Lock / Supplied)

This year NEWF delegates got the chance to vote for their overall favourite pitch and the winning filmmaker was recognised with a coveted audience award. During the 2018 NEWF Congress, last year's Pitch winners screened their film for the first time.

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Who were last year's winners?

The winners of last year's competition were:

  • Fidel Tshivhasa for his story on the humpback whale migration that takes place in KZN;
  • Shivan Parusnath for an undercover look at the illegal reptile trade,
  • Mikhale Singh whose project is about the endangered Pickersgills’ Reed frog and
  • the Ashdown and Imbali EnviroChamps (Liberty NPO and DUCT) who are a group of individuals working to protect the wetlands and rivers in their area. 

These four films, which have just recently been complete, were premiered at a public screening on Durban's New Beach on July 17, 2018.

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2017 winner Fidel Tshivhasa's pitch on the humpback whale migration detailed how he, as a young man from Limpopo, came to feel inspired by these gentle giants. The film, titled Seeking Giants, had moved van Nijkerk who said she was quite impressed and pleasantly surprised by his work - even during its early and rough cut stages.

She said that she saw his potential as a judge at the 2017 congress and that his ability and talent shone through his final piece of work. Van Nijkerk also added that, with his level of talent, she believes he will be joining the panel on the NEWF stage at a congress rather soon. 

Following the warm responses to his film, Tshivhasa said the feedback was great and he enjoyed that everyone appreciated the effort that was made from a cinematic perspective. The response had also reinforced the decision to showcase the film's outcome as it was - which displayed the reality of how difficult it is to see and film the whales.

"The aftermath of the film was the beginning of what I would like to see a feature coming out of. Most probably doing more work that features the scientific work that goes into the field as well, among other things," Tshivhasa explained.

His work has also been getting noticed by some of the big names in the media and green media industry.

Tshivhasa said that he was approached by Dustin Renwick from National Geographic to contact them should he need to take his work further for development into a feature film, which, he admits, is great.

"Thando Shozi, of the SABC, would also like to facilitate that process so that they can have buy-in to the proposal as well," Tshivhasa added.