'Umbrella' filmmaker Shannon Walsh gets starring role at Venice festival

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 May, 2015, 5:27am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 May, 2015, 5:27am

A Hong Kong-based Canadian director whose film on the "umbrella movement" was a hit will see her latest documentary, on the transformation of South Africa's neighbourhoods, showcased at the opening weekend of the Venice Biennale Film Festival.

City University academic Dr Shannon Walsh explores the struggles of poor black South Africans amid the growing middle class in her feature-length documentary, Jeppe on a Friday.

The project was an attempt to put a microscope on the "radical juxtaposition of contradictions that you find in the world, and then you break them into the tiny little space of a neighbourhood in Johannesburg", said Walsh, the writer and co-director of the film.

She draws a parallel to the city she now calls home. "We tried to show both the conflicts and the bubble in South African society that exists all over the world. In all major cities, we see this extreme proximity of wealth and poverty. Hong Kong is no exception."

Jeppe, co-directed with South African filmmaker Arya Lalloo, is part of the curated selection of artworks and films on exhibit at the Johannesburg Pavilion during the 56th Venice Biennale - the world's oldest international art exhibition, which is dubbed the Olympics of the art world.

Acclaimed artist Tsang Kin-wah will be Hong Kong's representative at the global event, aided by the team behind visual culture museum M+, which is under construction at West Kowloon Cultural District.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will officiate at the opening of the Hong Kong Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

The film follows the lives of five people in a Johannesburg suburb called Jeppestown.

"We've been following people from really diverse areas of life," Walsh said. Her team aimed "to explore a neighbourhood undergoing rapid transformation and urban gentrification".

She hoped the characters would cast a different light on the current xenophobic unrest in South Africa. Anti-foreigner attacks have left at least seven people dead over the past month.