Johannesburg – “Depression is seen as a bougie (bourgeoisie) thing, izinto zabelungu (white people’s things) and those who do come out are usually seen as weak, wa tefa, an attention seeker,” says Sara Chitambo, the woman behind South African documentary Black People Don’t Get Depressed, which was spotlighted at this year’s Cannes.
The director says of the production, “It’s a layered film with original music, poetry and a social impact campaign that is organically being shaped by the rise in mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve lost so many people unnecessarily to depression. I’m tired of people feeling alone, hiding and not having options to process their mental health issues. We have lost Jabulani Tsambo, Phumlani Pikoli and vocalist Nichume Siwundla, to mention but a few.”
An enticing pitch earned her the support of the Durban Film Festival last year, where the International Emerging Film Talent Association offered critical support and guidance to Chitambo and her producer, Cati Weinek, leading to the doccie finding its way to the Cannes Marché du Film in France, along with three other works in progress by emerging film makers from around the world.
The Marché du Film is the film industry’s biggest annual market and forum where more than 12,500 professionals convene.
“It will open many doors for the project on a global scale in terms of funding, partnerships and distribution,” Chitambo says.
And producer Cati Weinek adds: “It’s a great privilege to have been invited on to the Cannes Film Market, showcasing a great social change documentary among our peers. With the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, the Cannes Film Market is a hybrid format this year with meetings, screenings, and workshops taking place both in person as well as online.”
Chitambo says Black People Don’t Get Depressed explores the struggles and triumphs of Africans in an attempt to demystify depression.
“This film is born out of frustration that mental health is largely misunderstood in black and African communities. Those living with mental health issues have limited access to treatment and medical options, or remain largely neglected.
“My aim has been to understand the experiences of depression that are a burden so many Africans carry secretly and with shame. Whether it’s myself here in Joburg, a poet of immigrant roots in Canada or a healer in Nigeria we’ve all carried a burden of trauma. I want to probe how we process and heal that burden.”