Unpacking the 3Package Deal: Sibs Shongwe-La Mer

02/08/2017

The past year, we’ve caught up with the fifteen eclectic, genre-bending participants of the 3Package Deal 2016 as they worked on their craft and prepared themselves for their final presentations in the wide-ranging fields of visual arts, fashion, film, theatre, urban dance, social design and olfactory art. This month: South-African writer/director/actor Sibs Shongwe-la Mer.

His name is pure poetry. His speech discloses a thoughtful philosopher; a passionate activist; a great romantic. His face bears the markings of an old soul. Perhaps it’s because the young artist from Johannesburg likes to live several lives in one. He is, in his own words, “a maximum-output human being.” After the success of his semi-autobiographical debut feature Necktie Youth (2015), Mer spent the last year in residencies on the outskirts of South Africa, Berlin and Chicago to “center himself” and write his next two projects. On a typically grey Dutch day, we met over coffee, cinema and the things that matter.

The 3Package Deal

“I like that it’s for artists that are still fresh but are given time to nurture themselves as an artist, instead of being imposed with themes or experiences. If the money comes from institutions that need to make profit over quality control, they’re on your case the whole time.”

Amsterdam

“It’s the kind of place that doesn’t have an easily understandable social-political dynamic. I’m interested in how ethnicity and culture plays out in the European context, especially with the colonial history. I want to research, for myself, the connection between identity and space, and how to approach cultural appropriation. It’s strange, because Afrikaans is similar, and the people seem similar but they’re very different. In short, I don’t know what the fuck’s going on.”

The Outsider

“I was always a DIY kid, making my own punk album covers, but the philosophy didn’t arrive until I was fourteen, with Amy’s suicide (which was at the base of Necktie Youth, ed.). I learnt way too early that I didn’t know shit and I responded in an extremely violent way. My boarding school principal gave me Albert Camus’ The Outsider to read, and from there I was fucked. Everything became a matter of life and death. Suburbia really felt like purgatory. When you grow up in such an isolated, no-culture space, in Africa, movies and music become everything. It’s how you know about Paris, or the Netherlands, or Larry Clark’s Kids in New York. I became obsessed with cultural appropriation and subcultures. That was the start of it all.”

The Color of the Skull

“The Sound of Animals Fighting (Mer’s other project, currently under development and recently selected for the Paris coproduction village, ed.) is more of a big movie for a broader audience, whereas this is closer to me and more arthouse. When Mandela was dying, what was troublesome to me was he wasn’t even politically active and white people were panicking over this impending civil war. It seemed the whole fragility and democracy of a country was resting in, like, what, to me. I wanted to make a film about these two Afrikaner boys who get sent to a fundamentalist right-wing camp during the impending end of South African democracy, to prepare for war. A brutal, Judgement Day film about what happens when we keep on perpetuating hateful ideologies. All kids are born with an instinctively kind nature, but if we keep on putting the cancer in the lemonade, people are going to keep on getting sick.”

Overcoming nihilism

“The great thing about making films in an autobiographical manner is that your work grows with you. I’m not as nihilistic anymore. I know about good things in life now. I’m more interested in overcoming situations, and I’m more invested in the struggle of people outside of myself. There’s more political urgency. Art is a civic responsibility.”

About the 3Package Deal

The 3Package Deal talent scheme - a collaboration between the AFK and Bureau Broedplaatsen (BBp) - assists and encourages exceptional young artists through affordable live/work spaces, a development budget of € 22.500 and professional encouragement from a coalition of renowned Amsterdam art institutions. Sibs Shongwe-la Mer is part of the Film Coalition, with EYE, Filmacademie Amsterdam, Binger Filmlab and IDFA. Necktie Youth won the Jury Award at World Cinema Amsterdam in 2015, and Amsterdam-based production company HALAL is producing Color of the Skull, which was selected for the Berlinale director’s alumni coproduction market. The Sound of Animals Fighting will start shooting in 2018.

Text & Images: Lauren Mae Murphy