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Facing human fragility – SAFTA winner Mia Cilliers

30 Mar 2017 - 11:15

Last week we featured the winner of the South African Film and Television Awards in the category Best Student Film, Roxanne Dalton, for the film Finding Freedom. This week we put the spotlight on Mia Cilliers, also a CFMS alumna, who won the Best Achievement in Directing in a Documentary Short award for the film Six to Six. Both alumni expressed immense gratitude towards Dr Liani Maasdorp from CFMS, who co-produced the two films.

This is what Mia had to say: “I came to UCT to my masters in Documentary Arts after having completed a BPhil in Journalism at Stellenbosch University. I had always been more interested in film than journalism but wanted to combine the skills that both fields offer. Doing an MA in documentary was therefore the perfect opportunity to build the necessary skills as a filmmaker. 

Six to Six gave us access to a space we never dreamt of seeing: the Salt River Mortuary at night. I think, initially, it was tough for us to deal with the fact that we were surrounded by death but what was almost scarier was how quickly we became desensitised to what we saw. Something that stuck with us was that, despite all our inequalities in life, death is the ultimate equaliser: any of us can end up in a mortuary and that really hit home for us.

Our challenges in shooting Six to Six were mostly about getting access to scenes and permission to film and also making sure we had characters who were compelling and committed to the shoot. In the end we found three wonderfully engaging characters in Pierre, Lungi and Taariq who each had very different perspectives on the work they do.

Winning a SAFTA was a huge compliment to the film which was by and large a passion project. While one does not make films for the accolades, it is a huge honour to be publicly acknowledged for your work.”

The event was held at Sun City over three days. Hosted by the National Film and Video Foundation, the SAFTAs is a key event in the film industry calendar and glitzy to the max. The red carpet gets rolled out and it’s a great networking opportunity and a chance for casts and crews to reconnect (often many months, even years) after production of their projects have ceased.

Six to Six is an intimate look into the night shift of one of Cape Town’s busiest mortuaries, revealing the human and often humorous side of working with the aftermath of loss. The film paints a portrait of three forensic pathology officers who spend night after night, waiting for people to die.

Reel Epic spent over two years intermittently shooting with the mortuary staff. The film plays with the idea of cycles: the cycle of day and night, of life and death, and the cyclical nature of long hard shift work. The narrative follows each of them as they attend to a different death scene in a vast and varied Cape Town. These scenes are intercut with slow moments at the mortuary itself as they wait for time to pass: doing paper work, cracking jokes, watching TV, etc.

Read more about the films and other Reel Epic productions here.