the sound of masks encounters documentary film festival NFVF National Film and Video Foundation Callsheet
June 11, 2019

The Sound of Masks Q&A with Sara CF De Gouveia


The Sound of Masks, a film by Sara CF De Gouveia, is a moving ode to the cultures of Mozambique told primarily through dance and music.

The Callsheet caught up with director and producer, Sara CF De Gouveia, to find out more about her film and how the South African documentary industry is doing.

the sound of masks encounters documentary film festival NFVF National Film and Video Foundation Callsheet

The film, funded by the National Film and Video Foundation, is currently screening at the 21st Annual Encounters South African International Documentary Festival. The Sound of Masks will be screening at 6:30pm, 13 June 2019, at the Labia Theatre in Cape Town, and at 7:30pm, 14 June 2019, at The Bioscope in Johannesburg.

READ MORE: NFVF Funded Films Set to Take Centre Stage at Encounters

Tell us about the film in a nutshell. What about the story intrigued you, and why did you pursue it?

The Sound of Masks tells the story of Atanásio Nhussi, a Mapiko dancer and storyteller from Mozambique and through his life and work we are taken on a journey through the country’s history. The idea for the film came up in 2011, when I first met Atanásio and his dance group “Massacre de Mueda” in Cape Town. They had come to perform during the Out of the Box festival and that’s when I was introduced to them by Paolo Israel, a historian at the University of the Western Cape. I was intrigued by their performance, which was a mix of traditional and contemporary dance, music and theatre and I was particularly captivated by the way Atanásio directly addressed the audience.

I had been to Mozambique a few times when that happened and was interested in working on a project that looked at colonial history, since I grew up in Portugal, so there was that historical connection. I felt we had been told a narrative in Portugal that didn’t seem to reflect what I had seen in Southern Africa or how people in Mozambique perceived the Portuguese. When I met Atanásio and his dance group they spoke of that history through their work, so it seemed fitting to make a film with them.

Because the focus of the story turned on Atanásio, it allowed us to explore certain universal themes, such as the intergenerational gap between him and his son, as well as others that are particular to Mozambique, such as memory, history and dance as a creative tool for social commentary.

The two story-worlds in the film, vérité vs oral storytelling, allowed us to seemingly cross the threshold between real and imaginary, blending elements of dance and archive to illustrate mythological stories told by him with the intent of educating.

Atanásio’s plight in promoting Mapiko in a contemporary context is inspiring, but he has also realised that he has perhaps failed to pass this knowledge down in his own home. That becomes clear when he says he feels an indebtedness towards his son. These aspects of Atanásio’s life converge to comment on the tension between past and present, tradition and modernity in a radically shifting country.

Take us through the funding process and how the NFVF assisted you in bringing this film to market.

The NFVF has been one of our greatest supporters as they came on board when the film was still in development and they have followed the process until we finished the film, so we feel very grateful for their ongoing encouragement. We were also fortunate to get funded by the IDFA Bertha Fund, Hot Docs Blue-Ice Development Group fund and RTP.

READ MORE: South African Film Rebates and Incentives

What are the challenges of being a documentary filmmaker in today’s world (outside of funding, of course)?

We are at an interesting time for filmmaking in general, as this broader access to technology has democratized the filmmaking process to a certain extent, but that has also increased the competition as there are more and more films being produced every year. So, I guess the challenge is producing work that can stand out, so that you can still find an audience for your work.

What trends have you noticed in doccie making that have informed this film of yours?

I consider the film to be a hybrid documentary and from what I see there is an increasing number of filmmakers breaking the rules of what a documentary film should be. I think it’s wonderful to see so many creative films being produced all over the world, where the line between reality and fiction is blurred. I personally like films that take me away from reality somehow and into a person’s inner world. I find that’s where our creatives selves live and it’s a more intimate way to get to know one another.

Your thoughts on SA’s film industry in general? Are there enough opportunities for up and coming filmmakers, or not so much? What can we do better?

There are some opportunities for young filmmakers in SA and there has been a shift in the industry in opening doors for younger voices, which is wonderful. Those opportunities have created more competition, so it’s both easier and harder to be a young filmmaker. I think at the end of the day, if you feel the need to tell stories, you just have to do it and people will eventually take notice.

Where do you see the future of documentaries, especially with tech like AR and VR sweeping the industry?

Documentary filmmaking is a really fascinating medium as it can go in any direction. When I was at Hot Docs in Toronto earlier this year I watched some really powerful VR projects, such as Traveling While Black by Roger Ross Williams, which really opened up my mind to different ways of telling stories. I don’t think these new spaces will take away from the experience of watching a film on the big screen, what they offer are alternative platforms for storytelling.

READ MORE: The Sound of Masks Documentary to Screen at Hot Docs Canada

Tell us about Encounters and your plans for the film at the festival, as well as what’s next for The Sound of Masks.

The film has two screenings in Cape Town during Encounters, on 11 and 13 June and one screening in Johannesburg on 14 June, which is super exciting. Khalid Shamis, who edited the film, will join me for a Q&A after the first screening in Cape Town, so I’m hoping we’ll have a nice conversation with the audience. The film is currently also screening at the New York African Film Festival and it will also be at the Durban International Film Festival in July.

READ MORE: 10th Durban FilmMart Announces Project Selection for 2019 Edition

Any last words of encouragement for readers to see The Sound of Masks?

Atanásio is a captivating storyteller, so I hope that’s what the audience takes from it, and that they feel they get to know an artist not many people know about outside of Mozambique while learning a little bit about the country’s history.

Watch the Trailer

the sound of masks encounters documentary film festival NFVF National Film and Video Foundation Callsheet

The Sound of Masks will be screening at 6:30pm, 13 June 2019, at the Labia Theatre in Cape Town, and at 7:30pm, 14 June 2019, at The Bioscope in Johannesburg.


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