Filmmaker Q&A with Director Jessie Ayles

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Jean Rouch, Moi, un Noir


What motivated you to make this film?

I wanted to highlight and understand the voices that are most overlooked in society; young girls, to offer them a platform to express their point of view, and reveal what life can actually feel like at times living in extremely violent communities.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

Waves was shot on a Sony A7 Sii and a ronin


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.

Waves was predominately shot in 100fps – so, slow motion – as I wanted to create a timeless feeling of innocence and this sort of ‘paradise’ or carefree feeling that we would hope to associate with that time in our life when we have fewer worries and aren’t quite teenagers yet. I wanted this to juxtapose with the then more disturbing and violent moments within the film.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

I knew I wanted to make a film about young girls who live in these more violent communities in South Africa, but I had no idea where the film would take me. I would spend time with the girls during their surf lessons to get to know them, but one day surfing was cancelled because the weather conditions weren’t right and there had just been an incident in their community that had everyone shaken up. A 13-yr-old girl had been found raped and mutilated. We sat in a circle, myself and about 10 other young girls, and these young girls, about 10-14 yrs themselves, spoke about how this death of their peer made them feel. From that point I knew what I wanted the film to explore.

During post, I tried to edit it myself but I felt too close to the subject, so eventually managed to get Dan Canyon, a very talented editor and old colleague of mine on-board with the project and we decided to approach the edit a little differently – keeping the violent story as a twist to increase the impact and shock.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.

For me the most rewarding element was being welcomed into the girls and their families lives and homes and getting to know them. We would hang out, play video games or go on little trips around the coast, I felt a bit like a big sister to them and those are memories that I’ll always cherish. So, the fact that the girls, their families and the NGO Waves for Change, feel like the film has done their story justice, is the biggest reward I could have hoped for.


What advice can you give to other filmmakers?

I would say that it’s a really great exercise to keep interrogating your decisions, whether it’s the story’s subject matter, the structure of an edit, your character, your audience – start with the problem/issue and then think about the story (so sort of working backwards) – this can ensure that you’re making a film that will reflect or achieve the impact that you want it to.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

My favourite part is always the shoot, I love being pushed out of my comfort zone and into someone else’s world that you ordinarily would never get to experience.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

I always take a charging bank with me whenever I’m out filming, either to charge emergency film batteries or mobile phones in case you get stuck or stranded – they always come in so handy!


Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.

For me, making Waves was a pivotal moment in my life and career – in the past I had usually only followed through with commissioned pitches, these were always about subjects that I cared about, but there were always limitations and I didn’t have the freedom to really explore the issues in a different aesthetic approach.

With Waves, I took a step back and tried to really evaluate what I cared most about raising awareness on, and how I could begin to do that. From there came a connection with the girls and their struggles, and a greater understanding of what I want to continue to work on and tackle in my future projects.


Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

I think the biggest obstacles making this film were the risk factors involved in filming in the girls community – it’s an extremely dangerous part of Cape Town that most people completely avoid due to risks of crime. That, coupled with the fact that the film wasn’t financed so we weren’t able to hire security meant we had to only film during certain days of the week and times of day, like early mornings etc, when chances of an altercation were lower. I would have really loved a bit more freedom and time to film with them there.

And then secondly the other obstacle I mentioned earlier was that I wasn’t able to get a commission/ funding for the film, despite my efforts, so I had to pull in a lot of favours with friends and colleagues to work on the film for free – we were able to pull it off but it took over a year to finish as we were working around everyone’s schedules!


What do you want audiences to take away from this video?

I hope my audience will understand what it feels like to be a young girl in a patriarchal environment and the effects that gender based violence has on not only the direct victims but also the psyche of the female community. I think the more we talk about the invisible structures and effects that has on the psyche, both in terms of gender and race, then the more we’re able to challenge them.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

What can we do to help support victims of gender based violence or community members affected by it?

How can we start talking about masculinity in these communities and ideas around prevention and consciousness raising?


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?

Since filming Waves, acts of gender based violence – like those described in the film – have risen, and continue to be a normal part of life for many girls.

A woman is murdered in South Africa every three hours – murders recorded by the police have been rising every year for the last decade, and sexual offenses including rape have risen 4.6% this year – with 41% of rape cases reported against children. These incidents have become an increasingly unbearable yet normal part of life for many girls in South Africa.

The spike in violence against women, alongside recent murders, have ignited nationwide protests in many areas across South Africa in 2019 with people calling for action from the government.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?


Regular donations to grassroot organisations who are supporting vulnerable women

Waves for Change are directly fundraising for transport to get girls safely too and from the surfing


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.) relevant to the context of the issue discussed in your video:

Waves for Change









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