Producer Ronit Shapiro’s documentary, Sisters of the Wilderness, follows five young Zulu women from disadvantaged backgrounds as they venture into the wilderness for the first time, capturing how their experiences affect their lives.
It took Shapiro a year to choose the right women for the film, visiting the communities of Howick, Umlazi, Mpophomeni and Sweet Waters in her quest.
The documentary’s premise is that the wilderness has the power to heal even the most broken.
“I chose to use the documentary format as it’s the best way to educate, entertain and be engaging, but at the same time, tell authentic stories,” notes Shapiro. “This is an observational doccie, which means there’s no professional acting and no script. The characters and settings are all real and, therefore, are more believable.”
Documentaries, with the thought-provoking, authentic stories they tell, often make a deep impression on viewers, and Sisters of the Wilderness is no exception. By focusing on the women’s lives, the film explores issues such as female empowerment and leadership development.
Amanda Ntombela, one of the young women whose story is told in the documentary, says her interpersonal skills have improved since taking part in the project. “The film taught me that we can all be brave in any situation. I used to be scared of speaking to people and would avoid social interaction at all cost. Now I know that I can gather strength from being out in the wild,” she says.
Shapiro used music to help convey the range of feelings the women were experiencing. She worked on the score with renowned British composer Ian Arber, whose resume includes scoring for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and I Am Bolt.
“Ian composed music that highlighted critical turning points, such as when wilderness guide Lihle Mbokazi became the first black woman to graduate from the Wilderness Leadership School. The score perfectly underlines her difficult journey and tremendous challenges she faces on the path she has chosen,” says Shapiro.
Women take centre stage in Sisters of the Wilderness. “One of the most important characters in the film is Mother Nature and I hope our audience doesn’t miss the significance of this. From there, we change the focus to the difficulties women face in male-dominated sectors such as conservation. Then we zone into black women’s stumbling blocks, and how much more difficult it is for them to be successful in whatever career they have chosen,” says Shapiro.
“A documentary makes it so much easier for the viewer to identify with the story, as it uses a ‘point of view perspective’. This means that the story is not tainted by a director or producer’s agenda, it is a far more truthful respresentation of events or a situation.
“Of course, we have to edit and direct the content, but this is minimal,” explains Shapiro.
Sisters of the Wilderness is set to “edutain” viewers, with rich showcasing of culture and history. For example, viewers will be drawn in by the expansive Hluhluwe wilderness, once King Shaka’s hunting grounds.
Sisters of the Wilderness is available for purchase and can be seen as part of South African Airways’ in-flight entertainment in the coming months. For more information, visit onenaturefilms.com.
Watch the trailer below:
by Sibusiso Mkwanazi