ArtFilm / TV

AFROPUNK Cinema Noir: Sanaa Mothabisa on How He Is Contributing to Joburg’s Landscape Through His Lens

May 30, 2023

Johannesburg has always been referred to as a city of gold, where people from all sorts of life have the opportunity to create something out of nothing. It’s a city of opportunities where the most sought after resource is found, and at times, that resource is not the gold mined deep in the trenches, but it’s the people within the city who possess incredible talents. One such talent is the young Film Director, Active Humanitarian & Aspiring Poet Laureate, Sanaa Mothabisa. Influenced by the vibrant landscape and culture of Johannesburg, Mothabisa has found a unique way of telling compelling stories that paint the city of Joburg from a refreshing perspective. What has been evident with Sanaa’s work is his positive narrative when it comes to forging stories and his ability to draw the audience with a warm, inviting visual offering. Whether using his phone and candidly capturing kids in the streets of Soweto or shooting commercial work form brands such as insurance company, Momentum, Sanaa does it with authenticity that reflects who he is. 

We took time to chat with this young visionary and find out more about him.

If Jesus had to come today he would have been a filmmaker, but because they didn’t have films he  told parables. Before I knew the importance of storytelling, I was always fascinated by how movies  made me feel. In hindsight, I’m always chasing that feeling through my work. After studying film, I started my career at Bomb Productions where I developed my passion for authentic storytelling. Now  understanding that this medium goes deep into our misery, challenges as society & the beauty in us. 

Johannesburg is often portrayed in the media as a dangerous and crime-ridden city. How do you  aim to change this perception through your films?

As visual artists we have a responsibility to start a conversation in our societies. We contribute with  our gifts & talents to highlight things that affect or impact the community. Sometimes we have to do  uncomfortable work to spark an idea of change. I’m also in the pursuit of reflecting our society &  create work that is social commentary for those that don’t have the voice. 

How do you navigate the challenges of being an upcoming filmmaker in a highly competitive  industry, especially as a black filmmaker in South Africa?

I’ve come to understand that my favorite advantage is disadvantage. I’m addicted to self improvement & anything that leads me to commit myself completely. Just like football, film is  also a microscopic reflection of society. It’s not only hard making it in the film industry but  everywhere when you’re coming up. In hindsight all the challenges I’ve faced amounted to a better  character and useful industry experience. 

In your opinion, what are some of the biggest misconceptions about Johannesburg, and how do  you aim to challenge these through your films?

Some of the biggest misconceptions about Johannesburg include perceptions of it being solely a  dangerous or crime-ridden city, or being limited to a single narrative of poverty and struggle. Through  my films, I aim to challenge these misconceptions by showcasing the vibrant spirit, diverse culture,  and untapped potential of Johannesburg. I strive to portray the city as a dynamic and multifaceted  place, highlighting its beauty, resilience, and the inspiring stories of its people.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or films that you are working on, and what audiences  can expect from them? 

My next photo series focuses on the coexistence of contrasting elements in the city. From the layers of  history that blend old and new, to the stark socioeconomic disparities, and the collision of cultures,  the series invites viewers to reflect on the complex dynamics at play in this vibrant urban landscape.  With this photo series, I present a visual narrative that delves deep into the heart of the city, revealing  the intricate dualities that shape its identity.

What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers who are looking to follow in your footsteps  and make a positive impact on the world through their work? 

My advice to aspiring creatives is to stay true to your voice. Embrace your unique perspective and  find stories that resonate with you on a deep level. Remembering that the universe only responds to  work ethic. Be persistent, as the creative journey can be challenging, but passion and dedication will  carry you through. Surround yourself with a supportive community of fellow creatives and industry  professionals who can offer guidance and mentorship. & I think it’s important to always strive to tell  stories that matter, stories that can inspire, educate, and provoke positive change in the world. Your  voice has the power to make a difference. 

Sanna’s masterful storytelling, innovative visual techniques, and ability to evoke raw emotions on the screen garnered him industry recognition, making him one of the most sought after directors in South Africa.

You can follow Sanaa’s work on the newly launched website or follow him on Instagram @fro.sanna.