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LAFF ’08 INTERVIEW | “Thing With No Name” Director Sarah Friedland

LAFF '08 INTERVIEW | "Thing With No Name" Director Sarah Friedland

[EDITOR’S NOTE: indieWIRE is profiling the Narrative and Documentary Competition filmmakers who are screening their films at the Los Angeles Film Festival as world premieres.]

Screening in the Documentary Competition at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Sarah Friedland‘s “Thing With No Name” zeroes in on problems in post-apartheid South Africa, where a disease has a hold on a vanishing population. In Kwazulu Natal, the rate of infection in women is twice that of men, and one out of every six people is HIV-positive. Friedland follows two Zulu women as they begin antiretroviral drug therapy. She talked to indieWIRE about the experience and her hopes for LAFF.

What initially attracted you to filmmaking?

I was originally attracted to filmmaking after taking a film theory class at the University of Havana, Cuba. The professor introduce an entirely different way of understanding and looking at film and it blew my mind.

What was the inspiration for this film?

I decided to make this film after a trip to South Africa with my father who is a doctor specializing in AIDS and who works part of the year in South Africa at a rural hospital in Tugela Ferry, KwaZulu Natal. Tugela Ferry was unique at the time in that ARV’s, the drugs that prolong the lives of people living with AIDS, had already become available. People were surviving and the mood was hopeful. I was very struck by the place and the people I met. One of those people was Phumzile Ndlovu, an outreach worker from a near bye area called Okhahlamba. Phum told me that after seeing the effect of ARV’s in Tugela Ferry, she was determined to make ARV’s available in her area. I decided I wanted to document that process. After two years of fund raising, Esy Casey, (co-producer/cinematographer) and I made it to Okhahlamba and started filming. After so much time raising money, the project obviously had changed from the original idea. ARV’s had become available in Okhahlamba, so the film follows two women with full blown AIDS as they try to access the medication through the public sector. It is about the daily lives of people living with disease and those who support them during that time.

Please elaborate on your approach to making the film…

“Thing With No Name” is a very intimate quiet film. It was important to me that the film was loyal to the place and the people it portrayed. We spent four -five months in production in Okhalhamba but the first six weeks of that time we did not take out the camera. We wanted to get to know the people we were working with and make sure we were all comfortable with the process before beginning. Gradually the camera came out. We would show up regularly and spend the day with these people and just follow what was happening. Nothing was rushed and we let the circumstance guide us. Sometimes I would try and move conversations in certain directions but we took our cues from the situation. It was important to make the physical beauty of the area a character as well. We spent a lot of time exploring the area and looking for similarities between the story and its surroundings.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making the film?

Dealing with such sensitive subject matter as an outsider in a community so completely different from my own was very challenging. I was constantly questioning my place there and what I was doing. We worked with a wonderful translator, Vusi Maphahlala, who helped close the potential gap of misunderstanding. I also spoke with Ames Dhai, an ethicist at the University of KwaZulu Natal, before beginning the project and she definitely put me in my place about a lot of things.

What are your goals for the Los Angeles Film Festival?

I am hoping to get further exposure for the film and possible distribution. We are also hoping to get further exposure our fund raising efforts as. We have started raising money for the families depicted in the film and a local NGO in Okhahlamba called Philaghahle. Philaghahle supports the home based carreres, women who volunteer in the community to take care of HIV/AIDS patients. For more information about that please see www.thngwithnoname.org/help.

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