A South African director won an international Cannes Gold prize - proof that one’s background does not have to be a disadvantage.
The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, recently held in the South of France, brought together thousands of creatives from over 100 different countries to celebrate the world’s best advertising work.
And, it was here that history – which has made South Africa so proud – was made. Despite the South African film industry having long been criticised for its lack of transformation, all three Cannes Golds awarded in the categories of health, entertainment and film went to young black South Africans including Siphiwe ‘SJ’ Myeza-Mhlambi (7Films).
7Films, having worked on Y&R SA’s “Chasing the dragon” for SurfShack, won the sought-after Gold Lion in the Health & Wellness category – a momentous achievement. Furthermore, a Silver Lion in the Young Director Awards for Dirk van Niekerk’s “Dead Fish Eyes” and a Bronze Lion under Film Craft for script for the Western Cape Government road safety’s “Everybody knows”, produced by Lourens van Rensburg, were added to the agency’s achievements.
In celebration of his accolade but, more importantly, in recognition of a historical shift in the entertainment world, SJ shares his journey from humble beginnings to international success: At a young age, SJ’s mother passed away and his aunt and uncle took him in. Having had very little contact with his family previously, the experience honed his desire to succeed and build relational bridges across communities.
This determination enabled SJ to pursue his dream of studying directing and writing at AFDA in Johannesburg. Although he stepped into the creative industry where imagination is one’s only limit, his film style reflects his roots and is inspired by real stories and real characters. He believes, after all, that reality is stronger than fiction.
His “big break” came when he was appointed as film director in 2015 at 7Films, under the helm of distinguished owner and director, Lourens van Rensburg. Lourens took him under his wing and offered me valuable mentorship along the way. This guidance, together with much dedication, led SJ to the point of being named a partner at 7Films in 2016.
Comments SJ: “It is important to not let your circumstances define you. You are not a product of your circumstances; you are a product of your attitude.” His passion for film stems from a desire to make a difference in his community and to bring the community’s ideas and stories to the forefront of society. This desire to make a difference is why SJ is part of a non-profit organisation, Blackboard. The NPO intends to push Cape Town’s creative industry to become more racially diverse, in order to make it more impactful and representative.
He believes that most township students don’t consider creativity as a career path because they do not know that it exists. SJ shares: “Our ambition is to change that. We want to give more people in townships an opportunity to be exposed to the world of film. Winning a Cannes Lion is something that I could only have dreamt of. It still feels very surreal. If I think back, it was the opportunity to learn from Lourens that really helped me to sharpen my skill.”
Lourens expresses: “We not only believe in creating ground-breaking, forward-thinking work, but we believe in transformation. We believe in investing in the industry and creating a space for young talented directors to come through the ranks and continue to push the boundaries in the film industry. We are so proud of SJ, as he has creatively pushed himself to break boundaries.”
SJ concludes: “The mentorship I received no doubt contributed significantly to where I am today. It has allowed me to move past my humble beginnings and proudly represent the South African film industry at international level. I am proud to be a representative of our country and the industry; I am inexplicably grateful for my journey and those who have walked alongside me. The gift of mentorship, coupled with hard work and perseverance, has indeed proven to be worth gold.