Zandi Tisani has achieved a lot. This year, the Johannesburg-based filmmaker was part of a team that won two awards at the SAFTAs (South African Film & Television Awards) for Best Achievement in Scriptwriting in a TV Comedy (Those Who Can’t), and Best Achievement in Scriptwriting in a TV Drama (Umlilo).
To mark Africa Day, she’s released a short film, Style Diary: Yeoville, which looks at the fashion scene in the Joburg suburb that has been home to immigrants from all over the continent.
But we wanted to find out more about the woman behind the camera.
On learning and growing
After studying film and media at the University of Cape Town, Zandi’s career began to show promise when she directed Zaki Ibrahim’s 2012 music video, Go Widdit. “It was very much a learning curve. I mean obviously I look at it now and I see all the mistakes.”
Zandi describes herself primarily as a screenwriter, but she’s adept at directing too. “I just sort of ended up becoming a writer/director. The way that I write my scripts is almost like I’m making a film. Generally with a script the weird thing about it is it’s finished but it’s not – it still has to become a film. So it’s finished in itself, but it’s still going to take on another manifestation.”
Gender politics in the industry
The film industry, and the world in general, isn’t always the most accommodating to women – black women in particular. When asked if she feels extra pressure to tell the stories of black women in her work she tells me the first film she ever made, Heroes, was about white men.
“I did that because I wanted to release myself, from the get go, from the pressure of having to tell a black female story, and I wanted to know that I could tell any story,” she explains. “Not that I’m avoiding it, but if a white male filmmaker makes a film about going to space it’s chilled. I want to feel entitled to tell the same stories.”
Since relieving herself of that burden, Zandi has gone on to make a short film titled Highlands. “I made it about two years ago, actually. At the time, I was living in an apartment block right at the top of Yeoville, next to that field where people pray a lot. There’s a water reservoir there and I’d been reading a lot about the history of Johannesburg and how it was built.”
She describes it as a “very experimental” film that explores our profound relationship with water. The film has received positive responses and she’s enjoyed engaging with people on their interpretations of her story.
What the future holds
Currently, Zandi is working on a new web-series titled, People You May Know, which should be coming out soon. “It’s about black people in their late twenties, in Jo’burg, trying to pull themselves together and make a life of it.” She’s also working towards making her first feature film, which she has already conceptualised and might be ready for the big screen in the next two years.
Apart from making hot films, Zandi hopes to bridge the gap between high-art and popular culture.
“I just want my films to speak to people in new and interesting ways.”
*This article has been updated to reflected that Zandi won the SAFTA awards as part of a team