Address Unknown: Short Film Set in District Six Wins Audience Choice Awards At Festival

Supplied. Photographer: Lindsey Appolis

Address Unknown is a 24-minute short film set in 1976, it’s based on the forced removals of people of colour from the once multicultural area of District Six. The film won the Audience Choice Award at the Durban International Film Festival held in September.

The film follows the journey of a fictional character named Joey, a postman who struggles with being unable to deliver letters to his friends and neighbours who lived with him in District Six. Joey is left with no choice but to mark the letters as ‘address unknown’. Despite high political tension, he sets off on a quest to track his friend Ebie down to deliver letters addressed to him.

Supplied. Photographer: Lindsey Appolis

I chatted to members from the cast and crew about the film, their ties to District Six and how they celebrate their heritage.  

Supplied. Photographer: Phumza Marumo
How did you ensure that the film delivered the specific time period and location authentically?

DJ: We shot the film in the old District Six area and I have always driven passed those houses and knew that they resembled the way things looked in the late District Six. The house that we filmed in was an original District Six house and it’s actually a monument, so that was a great find. We also had to find a bus that was used in the old District Six.

The bus we found was quite expensive and I had to negotiate the rates to bring it down from R20 000 per day to half. This was a very important part of the story and it was something that I did not want to compromise on. It was also key that nothing on set represented anything that was too modern for the time. I think that our team did very well considering that our budget was quite small.

Had the forced removals not taken place, what do you imagine the area would look like in the present day?

DJ: The great thing about District Six was that there were so many people who were entrepreneurs and had their own businesses. So I am sure that even though the area was dilapidated at the time, that it would probably have been developed and that those businesses would grow and create wealth for those families. I think it would still be lively and contributed greatly to the economy. It would probably be similar to how Woodstock is now.

What are some of the memorable moments from the time on set?

DJ: The house that we filmed in was extremely small and it was quite difficult to squeeze about thirty people in, but we made it work! Getting the bus was quite an achievement for me and I made sure that they got all the necessary shots on the bus.

What does winning the Audience Choice Award at the Durban International Film Festival mean to you?

DJ: I think that winning this award shows that people want to hear these stories. This is the first short film set in District Six and represents our heritage as Coloured people. Although the area is now lost, through the film we have been able to bring it back. As young, Coloured filmmakers winning this award means a lot.

As a parent, what do you hope that your children learn from watching this film?

DJ: The film shows the psychological effects of the forced removals and how it felt for people to lose their loved ones and not be able to maintain contact with them. I think that this is important in showing younger generations why many people of colour could not generate wealth, how they were dispossessed of the land that they lived on and why many fights against the system still continue today. My grandparents lived in District Six and they have shared many stories about their life there, so I am glad that I can pass these on.

Supplied. Photographer: Phumza Marumo
What were your first thoughts after reading the script (written by Anton Fisher)?

NC: My first thoughts upon reading the script was that this postman character was quite a unique angle to tell the story through. Imagine having to deliver letters, but now there is simply no one there! Then the painful process of having to mark ‘Address Unknown’ on the envelopes. [It] is just such a metaphor for what happened to our people.

How did you prepare for this film, were any of your family members directly affected by the District Six forced removals?

NC: I immersed myself by speaking to people who lived in District Six. None of my direct family members were removed from District Six, but I am Moravian and there was a Moravian Church in District Six. My father was one of the speakers at the last youth service at the church during apartheid. I enjoyed the Kewpie exhibition hosted by the District Six Museum and getting to know the legendary Mogamat Benjamin, who shared beautiful and funny memories. There were also painful memories from people who were students at the time and also actively fought against the system. I laughed but I was also deeply moved at the same time.

What message do you hope the audience leaves with after watching the film?

NC: I hope that we just continue to talk and ask questions about the things that sit with us.

Supplied. Photographer: Lindsey Appolis
How did you prepare for the role of Joey?

SE: Some of my preparation included spending time with Zain Young, who was one of the postmen in District Six. I also spoke to Nadine our director and along with them, we spoke about the emotional journey of someone who lived in that time. I would then go home and try to sit in the character as much as possible to try and understand choices that the character would make.

What are some of the things you learnt from working on this film?

SE: You know with filmmaking and being an actor, there is always a learning opportunity. In this film, I learnt the sense of family, because we were such a tight-knit group of people, and how important this is to the filmmaking process. Everyone has a role and it always strikes me how all these parts make up the end-product.

Have you visited the District Six Museum? What was the experience like and how do you feel about the possibility of it closing down?

SE: I have visited the museum many, many times. I think the first time I visited, it was a very emotional experience. I think that the possibility of it closing down feels very ironic that it is the District Six Museum and this sort of emulates the forced removals and families that were torn apart. Just like they lost their community and sense of belonging, now this piece of history is also being ripped up and essentially being forgotten. It definitely gives me a certain sadness and feelings of anger that it is all happening again.

How do you choose to celebrate your heritage?

SE: It is actually quite interesting for me because I am on this journey at the moment where I am investigating and interrogating my heritage. In the last couple of years, I have definitely started to ask questions around where I come from and my sense of belonging.  This is a bit of a difficult question to answer because essentially I am not celebrating Heritage Day, but rather observing it. I will get back to you when I hopefully have concrete answers.

Address Unknown has been shown at the BlackStar Film Festival in Philadelphia in the United States, as well as the Durban International Film Festival. Director Nadine Cloete says that they are planning to host a screening at the District Six Museum however the planning is still in progress and dates will be revealed soon.