The dance between good and bad makes us human - SAFTA winner Rox Dalton

24 Mar 2017 - 09:00
Franklin Esau in Finding Freedom


CFMS recently announced that two of its alumni received awards at the South African Film and Television Awards. Rox Dalton's film Finding Freedom won the best Student Film Award, and she was asked to share her experience with us.

Discovering the theme of rehabilitation

Roxanne Dalton’s film Finding Freedom wont the Best Student Film Award. - See more at:

I completed my Undergrad with a Major in Sound Design at AFDA and went on to work as a sound designer on one of South Africa’s first feature length animation films Jock of the Bushveld. Instead of renewing my contract after two years, I decided to take 6 months off to travel to India and volunteer in an ashram. I landed up working in their film department which was a big influence on my decision to move away from fiction and focus on documentary. There is something incredibly fulfilling about the medium of documentary that I found to be missing in fiction films.

On my return to SA I registered for the Master’s in Documentary Arts at UCT. My first short film followed a pair of yoga teachers who teach a yoga class at Pollsmoor, and when it came to choosing a topic for our bigger project I looked to expand on the theme of rehabilitation. I have been a victim of crime on many occasions and was looking to deepen my understanding of the role rehabilitations programmes play and putting a face to the men our society is quick to lock away.

Renegotiating freedom with Franklin and Malcolm

Very soon after meeting Franklin Esau and Malcolm Booysen I knew I had found the two people I wanted the documentary to be about. These were two incredible young men who had been released from prison and were in the process of renegotiating life on the outside while actively working to uplift the two communities they came from. I met them through the SmilingOne Foundation which offers a rehabilitation programme in prisons across the Western Cape.

The films follows Franklin and Malcolm for a year and a half, capturing major life events, while at the same time exploring the concept of freedom and how it changes as we make our way through life. I really loved getting to know them both and my hope is that we’ll continue to move in and out of each other’s lives long after the film has been laid to rest.

Challenges and rewards - winning a SAFTA!

The film was logistically challenging in the sense that I had never made a feature film on my own before, and it was a huge learning curve that resulted in me having to extend my master’s degree by a year to finish the film properly. I hope the film sends the message that there is really very little that separates us all and there is a common humanity that binds us together. We are all capable of terrible acts or deeds, but are equally capable of the most honourable ones, and it is the dance between the two that makes us human.

Documentaries play an important role by allowing an audience access to cultures, people, ideas, and ways of viewing the world that they wouldn’t necessarily seek out. The more understanding and acceptance of our differences we are able to foster, the more we are able to generate compassion, which is hugely beneficial for any society. Documentaries can also incite action around certain issues and bring about measurable change.

Finally, there is an important exchange that takes place between the documentarian and those that are being filmed that can be illuminating from both sides. The most important lesson MoDa has taught me is to trust that the story that is meant to be told, will be told.

Winning the SAFTA felt amazing and humbling. This award would not be possible without my supervisor Liani Maasdorp’s keen editorial eye and constant support, and neither would it be possible without Franklin and Malcolm who had the courage to share their stories and stick it out till the end. Definitely a group effort!