Young SA filmmaker duo explore agony and ecstasy of gender identity

University of Cape Town (UCT) graduates Emilie Badenhorst and Kanya Viljoen question Afrikaner reactions they say they have observed towards LGBTQIA+ people in their short film ekstasis.

The 25-year-old creatives made the 35-minute film in response to what they perceived as a lack of acceptance of this community.

According to Viljoen, there has been a long-standing history of the larger Afrikaner community struggling to accept and welcome the LGBTQIA+ community.

As creatives and storytellers, the two aim to listen and reflect on everything that happens around them as honestly and ethically as they can through their respective media.

A still from the short film ‘ekstasis’. Image: Supplied

The creatives behind ‘ekstasis’

Both Badenhorst and Viljoen grew up in Somerset West.

“We have been working together since high school which includes acting in plays together, writing and directing. But this is the first professional film project we have collaborated on,” said Viljoen.

Badenhorst is a filmmaker, writer, conceptualiser and director. Viljoen is a writer, director, designer and performance artist.

Together, the two founded the creative arts collective Unusual Bones in Cape Town.

ekstasis short film
A still from the short film ‘ekstasis’. Image: Supplied

The inspiration for ‘ekstasis’

The title of the short film is a direct reference to one of poet Breyten Breytenbach’s poems, titled ekstasis.

It was the original springboard and inspiration, in conjunction with a relationship between two young women they knew at university.

When Badenhorst and Viljoen were at UCT, they observed two fellow students develop an intimate relationship. This served as the starting point for the poetry, socio-political world and characters of ekstasis to emerge.

“We are not a queer couple, but the film reflects both our observations of communities around us, as well as our own romantic experience with other people,” said Viljoen.

“And the violent behaviour we are discussing in the film includes name-calling, ostracism and in some cases physical abuse and alienation.

“Metaphorically, ekstasis also refers to the experience of ecstasy in a discovery or journey of intimacy. We wanted to remind the viewer of this when watching the film.”

A South African story

When creating ekstasis, Badenhorst and Viljoen believed that films made in South Africa should always try and reach a South African audience.

They started writing ekstasis in late 2018 and began casting and contacting a creative team to work with early in 2019.

“We approached production companies for funding and started to organise the budget, schedule and various other elements,” said Viljoen.

They shot, edited and created the score and film in November 2019. They were able to officially enter the film into festivals by March this year.

A still from the short film ‘ekstasis’. Image: Supplied

International collaborations and festivals

The duo worked with international production companies to submit their short film to international festivals.

“Emilie is represented for her commercial work in the United States by Couscous and in Europe by Cream. Both companies were willing to share and support the narrative work we wanted to create,” said Viljoen.

Couscous and Cream provided “endless support, love and input” the film-makers said.

“This has ultimately enabled us to shoot the film, enter film festivals and market ourselves alongside ekstasis,” said Badenhorst.

This year the film is an official selection of Rhode Island International Film Festival.

They plan a digital release of the film in 2021, as well as to take it to a few local film festivals.

Making an impact

“We believe this film holds significance because of the subject matter and themes that it explores, specifically the queer relationship in relation to the Afrikaner identity,” said Badenhorst.

They think their film, though, speaks to the complexities any relationship holds.

“We hope that every person that sees the film will find a moment or feeling that they can relate to.”

Kanya Viljoen.

The two also hope to spark conversations in people’s lives that bring a new way seeing the world and themselves. Particularly, they say, with regards to sexuality, intimacy and identity.

Lessons for fellow creatives

Badenhorst reminds creatives to “check in” with themselves and to express appreciation to those they work with.

“It is an incredibly rewarding and ‘publicly liked’ career, but your feet need to be firmly grounded.”

Emilie Badenhorst.

Meanwhile, Viljoen urged artists to work hard to remain true to themselves.

“If you know who you are, don’t alter that for anyone. That way you will never have a moment of feeling like you need to ‘apologise’ or ‘excuse’ the work you have made,” said Viljoen. Protection Status

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