Barakat takes Cape Flats stories to the world

4 December 2020

Cape Town-produced Barakat is only scheduled for release in cinemas nationwide in May 2021.

But it has already had an impact internationally, landing an award at the 23rd Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival in the US.

Barakat is South Africa’s first Afrikaans language Muslim feature film.

Film Cape Town recently caught up with Director and Screenwriter Amy Jephta of PaperJet Films to speak about the feature film which celebrates life in the Mother City’s Cape Flats.

Tell us about the title ‘Barakat’ and how does this reflect in the storyline?

Barakat is the Arabic word for blessing, and is also a colloquial term in Cape Malay culture used to refer to the plate of cakes, sweets and treats that you share with neighbours on Labarang (the celebration at the end of Ramadaan). In this film, Barakat – the blessing – takes many forms. Barakat can be in the form of a gift or in the form of a person or even an event or moment. In the film it’s all three of these.

What inspired the narrative of the film and how does it resonate with the South African audience and abroad?

Barakat first originated with a conversation about depictions of ‘us’ onscreen. Black, middle-class South Africans and our families, our histories, our language and our lived realities, we felt, were often portrayed as singular narratives.

We are so often portrayed as violent, poor, living in squalor, forced to deal with danger and drug addiction, crime and gang life, as a natural extension of our existence. There is a lot more beauty to our communities and our people. We wanted to tell a family story first, and that’s what connects and makes it universal.

And how does the film challenge those preconceived narratives of the Flats and coloured communities?

It was important for us as filmmakers to produce a piece that reflected the lived reality of this subsection of black South Africa in an authentic and honest way. For those who know the world, it was key to show an authentic representation of ‘our’ life on the Cape Flats with a distinctive voice, style and tone. To portray something recognisable while simultaneously showing ourselves depicted in a fresh way.

For those who don’t know the world, we wanted to show something new about the traditions and culture of a Cape Muslim family.
While the story itself is simple, this film presents a significant shift in the portrayal of black South African lives onscreen. It was of high priority to show a diverse, varied depiction of minority communities in South Africa. I think this intention definitely led to people connecting with the film.

The film did resonate with internationally because it was chosen as the “Best Narrative Feature” at the 23rd Reel Sisters Festival..

That has to be a satisfying endorsement?

I was extremely excited that the film was seen and connected with an international audience. It wasn’t made with an overseas audience in mind – we wanted the film to feel hyper local and be for South African audiences first. The fact that it did connect with the programmers of Reel Sisters was a lovely validation.

The filmmaking process can be fun and challenging. Any particular moment during the process you could say was your favourite or stood out?

I had so many. We had a great night where we had to wrangle some chickens in the back of a moving vehicle with a full crew. We shot some incredible scenes during a ‘moon sighting’ scene (where Muslims go and sight the full moon to signify the end of the fast), which involved the local Muslim community and was a very beautiful, sacred event by itself.

Any valuable lessons from producing “Barakat” that you could apply to future projects?

The value of surrounding yourself with a good, solid, dependable team. You’re only as good as the people you have around you. I was blessed on Barakat to work with a crew that became a family. I really value the art of collaboration and I’ve learnt I thrive in such spaces.

What do you see/hope for the future of the Cape Town Film Industry?

More of our stories! More nuanced stories, more of our stories to the world. For us to be seen as viable creative partners for foreign co-productions, not just as a service industry. And also for us to take full control of our own narratives, not waiting for it to be told or validated by outside eyes.

Jephta has just wrapped on a new series called Skemerdans, dropping on Showmax in April 2021.

See Barakat trailer here: