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Waves – Film

Words: Good Sport

Images: Jessie Ayles courtesy of the girls featured in the film

Waves is a short award winning documentary that looks at the effects of femicide and gender based violence on young girls in South Africa. Filmed in Cape Town’s notorious Lavender Hill, Waves explores the perspective of three young girls as they grow up in one of South Africa’s most violent communities. Murders recorded by the police have been rising every year for the last decade, and sexual offences including rape have risen 4.6% this year – with 41% of rape cases reported against children. These incidents have become an increasingly unbearable yet normal part of life for many girls in South Africa. The spike in violence against women, alongside three recent murders, have ignited protests in many areas across South Africa over the last few weeks. Action from the government is being demanded. Waves is an important tool in this current conversation – its aim is to inform international audiences about the reality of life for the majority of female South African’s who live in these communities, and spark support for charities and NGO’s on the ground who are making life a little more bearable for those affected. Good Sport spoke with film maker Jessie Ayles about the film and this feature coincides with the UN’s International day for the elimination of violence against women (25th of November).

I’m not a surfer myself, the girls always wanted me to get on the board but I was always too busy wanting to film them instead. I must say though that I have a very strong connection to the sea and water, so the calming effect of the ocean is something that I can really relate to.

Making this film came together through a natural progression. My parents are South African, which drew me to have a strong infinity with the country and I had been quite hungry to fully understand the complexity and scars that its history has left. I also have a particular interest in hearing from voices I believe normally wouldn’t be seen on screen. I came across the surf NGO, Waves for Change, and knew that there could be an interesting story there so started to spend some time with the surf coaches and young people.

During the time of filming Waves, I was based in South Africa, so was lucky to be able to take my time with the film. The girls surfing lessons happened once a week on Saturday’s, so I spent different shooting days with them spread over a month. Getting to the surfing lessons was the easy part as it was in a safe part of town; Muizenberg. But filming in the girls community safely was a big challenge. The film didn’t have any funding and usually you need to hire armed security for this sort of thing, so it was a big risk every time we went into where they lived. The girls really enjoyed the whole process though, I think for them it was a lot of fun to be involved with, and something that gave them confidence as well.

I remember it was very early on in the process, when I first went to the surf lessons. One day the lesson was cancelled because of weather conditions, so the coaches did a group exercise instead – they sat the girls in a circle and started asking them how the kidnapping and death of this young girl, whom some knew and were friends with, made them feel. For me, sitting there and listening to these young girls express themselves, some as young as 8yrs, and having to process something like this was a real wake-up call. That was the moment at least that I knew what I wanted the film to explore.

Before I left South Africa I took all of the girls to a big theme park (somewhere that they normally wouldn’t get the opportunity to go to) and we spent the day taking photos and going on rides. We just had a big day of treats which is really memorable and I enjoyed being able to do with them.

The film has already exceeded a lot of my expectations, I always wanted it to screen at a big film festival in South Africa, and it premiered at Encounters Documentary Festival in Cape Town where it won Best Short Documentary. It’s also gone onto win two other awards so far and screened at many other festivals.

What I am really interested for my films with socially conscious angles is to make some tangible difference to the issues that they’re tackling. I’ve started partnering with NGO’s who share the same mission as the film, who will be using it as a resource within their projects. I.e Annie Lennox’s NGO The Circle, are using Waves as part of a long campaign they’re running around gender based violence, and there’s an amazing NGO in South Africa called The Justice Desk, they’re going to be screening the film in schools as well to young children.

Beyond that I would love to work more closely with impact producers and NGOs who create a targeted plan for a films campaign, whether that’s getting it in-front of policy makers, or the right audience to change behaviours. I would love to do what I did with Waves on a larger scale, maybe even a feature.