The world is so much clearer in close-up
Ingrid Martens has a beautiful home in the trendy Johannesburg suburb of Melville. I am struck by the architectural design of her living quarters. Together with the guesthouse, her house forms what appears to be a circular wrap around a garden with a swimming pool at the center. Stepping out of any of the doors to the structures leads you directly to the garden and pool. She jokingly tells me that the guesthouse funds her expensive hobby of filmmaking.
Ingrid has straight, shoulder length, light brown hair. She has inviting eyes. She giggles often, and has a carefree, happy laugh. But I sense that she is a perfectionist. The artwork on her walls is carefully chosen to tell you precisely where she has been through her travels, which are extensive, making her a very worldly person indeed. It seems every piece of artwork I compliment was purchased on a particular trip for a specific reason, and has a story behind it.
She makes me coffee and we sit by the poolside to chat. Ingrid was born and raised in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. She studied at the University of KwaZulu-Natal where she obtained her Masters degree in Culture and Media Studies.
While completing her Masters degree, she documented the beginning of Regional Television in South Africa. It was during this process that she trained with various journalists, found her passion for telling stories and evolved her own concept of how to do it: “I shy away from wide angle story telling, from recreating my own perceptions. I would like to think I zoom in on people’s lives and find nuance. In so doing, I allow the story to tell itself. I choose the close up”, says Ingrid.
Soon after completing her Masters degree, she worked for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), at a time when South Africa’s democracy was taking shape. “I recall quite vividly working on a story in Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal in 1994. KwaZulu-Natal was a warzone at the time, people would stop us in the road and say: ‘Help, they’re killing us’. In the midst of that violence you could still see strength. The Gogos [elderly women] of those villages kept everything together. They were a source of strength. In all that violence, in all that death, they united and mourned together and relied on each other for support. Undoubtedly there was chaos, but I saw the spirit of Ubuntu in a way I had never experienced in my own life”, says Ingrid. She tells the story with pensiveness, almost reliving it. I can tell she is a person of silver linings. She endeavors to find hope in everything.
Not long after this, Ingrid was chosen for the International Professional Programme for Journalists at CNN in Atlanta, which was launched by CNN founder, Ted Turner, in 1988. No more than 900 journalists from 123 countries and 207 news organisations had been a part of this programme since inception at the time. Ingrid was selected for this programme from thousands of hopefuls from all over the world after she won a CNN African Heal Award for a story on virginity testing.
When she returned from America, Camerapix, one of Africa’s most awarded production houses, approached her to take up the position of Executive Producer at its first ever South African office. “When I worked at Camerapix, I began to tell stories that matter. It also allowed me to travel throughout Africa and, with each place I went to, I fell in love with this continent”. At Camerapix, Ingrid produced and assisted in the production of news and features from countries such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Guinea, Rwanda, Mozambique, and Angola.
Come 2003, and now a fully seasoned producer in her own right, Ingrid established I’M Original Productions, her own company. She says that I’M Original Productions is dedicated to creating and delivering authentic collaborations, content and strategies. It was under I’M Original Productions that she made Africa Shafted Under One Roof, a feature documentary that was filmed in Ponte Towers, Africa’s tallest residential building, situated in the infamous suburb of Hillbrow that neighbours the Johannesburg city centre, with 54 floors that are home to some 4 400 Africans.
Funding the entire project herself, Ingrid began filming in 2006. When the Xenophobic violence took place in 2008, two years after she began filming, and quite a number of foreign Africans were attacked around South Africa, she was kicked out of Ponte Towers, together with the residents. Africa Shafted Under One Roof gives an honest glimpse of the tragic reality of xenophobia through the eyes of people from every corner of Africa living under one roof. It reveals the daily struggles of Africans from the rest of the continent living in South Africa today.
Undoubtedly, this is Ingrid’s proudest film work. “I rode the lift at Ponte Towers for two and a half years and created a relationship with the residents. They allowed me into their lives. We spoke of their home countries, their jobs and falling in love. In the film I look at the residents one on one, they are not just poor, they are people”, says Ingrid.
She makes references to the film often. It is clear that it changed her life. “It was my travels through the continent that gave me this insight and it was passionately reinforced in the lifts of Ponte. Ponte revealed parts of myself to me. It exposed me to our common humanity. In that lift, it became clearer to me that we are all just people. We all know joy, we all know suffering, and we all know love”, she says.
In 2012 Africa Shafted Under One Roof won the jury award for the Most Original Treatment of Cinema at the Planeta Film Festival in Mexico. It has been screened at the New York African Film Festival, the Africa in Motion in Edinburgh Film Festival, the African World Documentary Festival, the Durban International Film Festival and the Tri-Continental Film Festival and many others.
I left Ingrid’s home richer. She has a profound appreciation and love for this continent and its people. She is determined to show off its beauty, to tell its story using the close-up shot as opposed to the wide angle one. She wants to make films that connect people. Her desire is for all of us to see ourselves in others. Her films are a close up on the human condition. As I do with all interviewees, I ask Ingrid how she would like me to write about her. She replies, without hesitation “With dignity. Write about me with dignity”.
I trust I have.