Add to Queue: NEWF Fellows Ocean Films

A selection of curated media lists from our global community
words – noel kok, pragna parsotam-kok
location – sodwana bay, south africa

The ocean is the centre of many myths and folklores that are weaved into our African storytelling tradition.

But for the people of a continent surrounded by over 30,000 kilometres of coastline, many of us – in particular, Black and Indigenous African people – were made to feel like the ocean and natural spaces weren’t for us. Consequently, we’ve been historically excluded from science and the stories told about the ocean. To put things in perspective, in our roles as National Geographic Explorers and co-founders of Nature, Environment, and Wildlife Filmmakers [NEWF], we’ve met African marine researchers who have never been underwater to see the very species they’ve spent their entire careers studying. And to this day, there are very few African underwater filmmakers and cinematographers.

When we launched NEWF, we were determined to change that. Our mission has always been to create strong communities for Africa’s storytellers, conservationists and scientists to help each other grow, and tell the nature and wildlife stories of Africa, from their own authentic lens. And thanks to Africa Refocused – a collaboration between NEWF and the National Geographic Society – we will be able to grow our reach and impact.

The UN has declared this the Ocean Decade, and one for ocean science for sustainable development. If we’re to protect the ocean, it’s also critical that we support stories and storytellers who bring science to life and inspire us to take action. As such, we’ve selected some films that celebrate the beauty – and advocate for the protection – of our oceans, produced by African filmmakers. And we’re only getting started.

To build on this commitment to storytellers, we recently opened a new storytelling, research and dive centre in Sodwana Bay, adjacent to iSimangaliso Wetland Park, in one of the world’s top dive spots. It’s the first dive centre of its kind in the area to be run by a Black African woman. The centre has been affectionately called “eKhaya,” a Zulu word that means home. We hope it offers just that – a home where aspiring filmmakers can gain specialised skills like dive certification and underwater cinematography, create stories and films that inspire awe and wonder, and change the way the world sees Africa and her oceans.

01_Bahari Yetu (2020)

Director: Jahawi Bertolli; Producer: Elke Bertolli

 ‘Bahari Yetu’ – ‘Our Ocean’ in Swahili – helped inspire the creation of a marine protected area off Kenya’s coast. The Indian Ocean is changing, and the Swahili people have witnessed this firsthand. Their culture relies on the ocean for survival, using methods handed down from their ancestors. In ‘Bahari Yetu,’ fishermen from the Lamu Archipelago share their experiences of over half a century sailing these waters, as well as stories from their fathers and grandfathers who taught them their trade.


02_Phefumla (“Breathe”) (2020) 

Director: Maishe Mosala; Cast: Loyiso Dunga; Executive Producers: Noel Kok, Pragna Parsotam-Kok, Takalani Mulaudzi; Cinematographer: Fiona Tande, Duncan Tilley

Beautifully filmed in the waters of Kwazulu-Natal’s Sodwana Bay in South Africa, ‘Phefumla’ shows how a marine scientist from the Cape Flats overcomes his fear of drowning. Loyiso Dunga tells himself, “breathe,” [“phefumla” in Zulu] as he ventures into the ocean, knowing he is not a good swimmer. Scared, but enchanted by the diversity of life under the water, he swims out, again and again; a metaphor for learning, for life’s journey.


03_Hluleka (2020)

Director: Jamila Janna; Producer: Jamila Janna; Cast: Dion Ntsasela, Notson Peters, Dr Bruce Mann; Editor: Nathan Rice

‘Hluleka’ is a marine conservation themed nature documentary that aims to encourage community engagement in decision-making. The story focuses on South Africa’s smallest marine protected area, Hluleka. We follow Jamila Janna on an emotional journey unpacking the history, the present and the future through the facilitation of solution-based discussions around inclusivity in decision-making.


04_Azilali – They Do Not Sleep (2019)

Director: Faine Loubser

‘Azilali’ is a unique approach to a film – it’s a soundscape inspired by the creatures of the sea. Journeying through the life of a dark shyshark foetus, ‘Azilali’ is a deep cinematic and aural bowing to the sacredness of the kelp forests and their myriad life forms and non-life forms. It gently reaches out to that which is beyond what can be said about the profundity, mysteriousness and beauty of nature and the universe.


05_Ulwandle Lushile (2020)

Director and Producer: Tembisa Jordaan; Cast: Thokozile Mkwananzi, Ntombiyenkosi Mhlongo, and Siphiwe Msweli

In apartheid South Africa, the Sokhulu practice of gathering mussels was outlawed. ‘Ulwandle Lushile’ shows how Sokhulu women persevered and are once again carrying on the tradition of sustainably harvesting mussels and passing it on to a younger generation. After the end of apartheid, an ocean ecologist worked with the women and helped them relearn the sustainable harvest methods that had traditionally been part of their culture.

06_Rise from the Cape Flats (2020)

Director, Producer and Key Cast: Shamier Magmoet; Producer: Charlie Luckock

‘Rise From the Cape Flats’’ tells how Shamier Magmoet, a Muslim man living in “the most dangerous community in South Africa,” was introduced to freediving in the ocean just a short distance away from his community and how it changed his life. The film depicts how his diving in the “Great African Sea Forest,” experiencing its “magical world of peace, beauty and life,” devoid of the daily gunfire and violence he was used to, compelled him to protect it and inspired youth to do the same.


Learn more about Africa Refocused and NEWF, and join us in supporting these incredible storytellers.

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