Earlier this month, a group of nine talented young creatives embarked on what for many was the experience of a lifetime – a six day introduction to scuba diving and underwater film making at iSimangaliso’s world renowned Sodwana Bay.
Hosted by the dynamic team at NEWF Congress (Nature, Environment and Wildlife Filmmakers Congress) in partnership with RAID South Africa and the support of several sponsors, the invitation was put out to young South Africans with a background in filmmaking or science communications and an interest and passion for the protection of our natural world. Out of 130 applicants, eight South Africans were selected, plus one young man from Zambia who blew the selectors away with his unbridled enthusiasm.
Over the course of five days, the group of six women and three men were skillfully coached to acquire their Open Water 1 scuba qualification by iSimangaliso licensed operator Adventure Mania. They became intimately acquainted with parts of the iSimangaliso World Heritage Site: The breathtaking miracle of witnessing endangered turtles hatching from their beach nests at night with Ufudu Tours; seeing big game and tracking wild dogs with Wildlife ACT in the uMkhuze section, and getting up close to hippos and crocodiles in the Lake St Lucia Estuary section with Advantage Tours. Their filmmaking skills were cranked up many notches under the tutelage of award winning filmmakers Grant Brokensha and Candice Odgers of The Bigger Picture, and to add the cherry on top, they formed lifelong friendships.
Life below water for people and the planet. An excited group of nine young filmmakers passionate about creating a path to conservation through film head to the Sodwana Bay section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park for the Introduction to Underwater Filmmaking NEWF Lab. Said organiser Noel Kok of NEWF Congress: “What an amazing week! Together we are discovering Africa’s next generation of nature, environment & wildlife filmmakers! Thanks to The Bigger Picture Films we have created a path to conservation through film by providing an opportunity for young filmmakers to explore the wonders of life underwater and filmmaking.”
They said it!
Mondli Mtshali: “I’m never going to be the same person again… since seeing the beautiful marine life underwater & hearing Peter Jacobs of Ufudu Tours articulate about turtles, I’m even conscious of stepping on an ant!”
Samson Moyo (Zambia): As soon as he set foot at Mantuma, uMkhuze he said “This feels so much like home. I think I will stay here. The vegetation is maybe slightly different but everything else, the animals, the sense of place is the same.”
Matshepo Khumalo: “I am interested in transformation and the exploration of wildlife filmmaking from the perspective of indigenous people.”
Jess Lambson: “I am extremely passionate about conservation, cinematography and saving the planet. I go out of my way every day to help reduce my carbon footprint and to educate people or invite people to learn more about conservation of the planet.”
iSimangaliso Marketing and Brand Assistant, Thandi Shabalala: “I was personally taken by their unwavering determination. And the fact that now we have these individuals as new, passionate iSimangaliso ambassadors and great story tellers out there gives me hope for solidarity and awareness on our conservation efforts. These are true game changers, no doubt!”
Yolanda Mogatusi: “So a little while ago, I ventured out on a little unexpected adventure that came upon me like a new born baby outside a random house. I was not ready for how physical it would be – 20 laps nonstop for a fitness test when I haven’t swam in over a year. I was not quite ready for the mind challenge – no you are not gonna die, your eardrums will not burst under that water pressure (just do the trick you’ve been taught) yes there’s a shark over there but it’s not just gonna swim towards you and have a Yolanda snack… breathe through your mouth… not nose, mouth!
But of course, I wasn’t alone. Some visionaries at NEWF took nine other budding filmmakers underwater to firstly learn how to dive and then learn about filming under water. As tough as this little expedition was, my top five memorable highlights of this adventure, are as follows:
1) I swam 20 laps nonstop across a 10 metre pool. I don’t know how the body did that. Even agreeing to do a relay swim race in high school was a problem… swimming just ONE lap needed major deliberation – the hair, the water drags too much… The Hair…!!! I survived 20 laps – nonstop… there is a God ❤
2) I dreamt I’d see Moby Dick out there but instead saw a Whale Shark which had never been seen for over seven years on those shores… say Whaaaaat? This Whale Shark sensed our good vibes and kept swimming around our boat, coming so close you could even reach out and touch its fin. We eventually jumped out of the boat and into the sea to swim with it… I can’t even begin to describe that sight! It’s like seeing an enormous, spotted elephant swimming under the sea except this elephant has the biggest mouth you have ever seen! I saw that mouth underneath me… no cage no nothing and I was like, nah family, not taking chances here and I pulled back ?. But please, let the record show that I swam with a Shark… sorry Sharks… plural! And I didn’t die… ?
3) I can float under water. Calm as a cucumber. Normally you float on top of the water but one can now float UNDER the water with a 12kg tank on one’s back… enough said.
4) The group of young filmmakers who were on this journey as well. What an amazing group of young minds! It reminded me of the type of vibe nice animation people bring. Animation people and wildlife filmmakers and scientists… beautiful souls.
5) Then last but not least, the looks we got every time we got into the pool and every time we walked on the beach and every time we jammed to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck when we were getting ourselves amped for a dive on the boat. People have never seen so much swag, so much flavour and so many brown bodies in so much water! And 70% of this crew were women – yep! Black females and a young sweet sister from another mother. There was so much peace and cohesion and joy as we integrated with each other and our instructors that people would full on stare with wonder, probably wondering what on earth is going on… how did this happen?! And we all just swam and we all just dived and we respected the water and the life in it…
It was the most mind boggling, fascination and beautiful journey. Thank you to Nature, Environment & Wildlife Filmmakers Congress for being such visionaries – just our presence on that beautiful beach and the colour and music we added is gonna change the world… you just watch!
And thank you to Adventure Mania, the coolest, chilled, most considerate and inspiring team ever!! We see you… and you see us! The world needs more of your salt and vibe… Thank you for changing our world as you continue to change many other lives.
And then to the team at The Bigger Picture Films… not only are we licensed divers now, but we have shot bits of footage underwater. So we are underwater filmmakers eintlek.
While many keep destroying this piece of the universe and world we live in and wage war against our humanity, you all are building bridges and changing your corner of the earth one deliberate act at a time. Salute! YESSSSSSS!!!!!”
NEWF LABS answers the need to provide specialised skills development for young filmmakers in the nature environment and wildlife sector of the industry.
We become the intersection point where young filmmakers can be inspired and equipped with the required tools to make informed decisions about the stories they choose to tell creating a connected online community of continued learning support.
iSimangaliso gives heartfelt thanks to those who supported this venture and enabled such a successful event: Nature, Environment and Wildlife Filmmakers Congress; Dive Raid Southern Africa; Adventure Mania; The Bigger Picture Films; Ufudu Tours; Advantage Tours; The KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission; EDTEA; Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Wildlife ACT.
Media enquiries should be directed to Debbie Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org.