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Mzonke Maloney’s Experimentation and Development


Carbon Films’ director Mzonke Maloney told LBB’s Zoe Antonov about his character centric storytelling, a new and authentic South African narrative-making and what has given him his distinct voice in the film industry

Mzonke Maloney’s Experimentation and Development

“I was just being,” simply says Mzonke Maloney, director at Carbon Films, when reflecting back on his childhood days. “I couldn’t care less about a career in my younger years. I’ve always been into great orators, though – anyone who could tell stories, linguistic geniuses, I didn’t know this is what they were at the time, but in hindsight I feel like that’s the common thread.” Besides being fascinated with storytellers, Mzonke enjoyed music and sports. When it comes to foreshadowing, he admits to have had a pretty ‘unregulated’ relationship with watching TV, which he loved as a pastime. “As a result, I saw lots of weird and formative programming that perhaps wouldn’t have happened if an adult was in the room.”

Later in life Mzonke went to university at the New York Film Academy, where he learnt a lot about the work he would start doing, the alternative practice he could have and was introduced to brand new cultural viewpoints. “All the typical things you find at university,” he says. Being foreign during that experience also gave Mzonke another perspective, or a new pair of shoes to step in. “Fitting in wasn’t a choice - I had to be myself and tell my own story, speak about where I came from as a 17 year old who just wanted to be loved and liked it validated my experiences and made me want to be myself more. That’s what defines that time for me.”

Somewhere around that character building timeline, Mzonke got into film. “I met a group of directors, whose work I really liked. Then I asked them if I could work for free.” Sounds quite simple, but never really is. Reflecting on the earliest days of his career in Los Angeles, Mzonke knows that those were the times when he truly honed his career. “We made cheap, shitty music videos. But it was on those sets that I started, in a childlike way, to figure out what the medium could be and what it could do. 

“Over the years I’ve been around some pretty incredible thinkers here in South Africa, people who are constantly trying to make interesting, experimental and inquisitive work – that has been an education in itself.” Ideas, for Mzonke, keep forming everywhere he goes, and he seems to be growing alongside his work.

Like many other creatives in the sphere, the director believes that there is something very human-centred underlining storytelling as a practice. “Make space for everyone to have equity to contribute and you’ll make work that’s more connected, honest and human.” 

When it comes to his first professional project, the words that the memory of it conjures are ‘fun, playful, free.’ It was a series of films for a Whiskey brand, for which Mzonke was given almost complete free reign over the creative direction of the pieces. On the flip side, for his most impactful piece of work, he points at the short film ‘Skaap,’ a movie about power, rage, grace and restraint. Mzonke himself looks back at the project fondly as one of his most loved ones.

And when it comes to what he loves most about his job, he doesn’t hesitate: “The people.” His main goals in his career currently are centred around self-mastery and the production of sensitive and vulnerable work, as well as creating with compassion. “My goal right now is to produce an abundance of short form work, that will allow me to work outside of the mainstream film industry and develop ideas outside of the dominant western paradigm that defines South African cinema at the moment. 

“I want to move away from genre normative American/European tropes and move towards a cinema that is more specific and distinct to my own reality, unhindered by market expectations or the committee commenting from the gallery. So this is a period of experimentation and development for me.”

This period of experimentation and development he sees in the broader industry as well. The idea that the medium has been so static for so long gives the opportunity to introduce new knowledge through a new generation of creators with brand and new viewpoints. “I love what democratisation does to the farce that is this industry, or to what is considered the ‘accepted standards.’ I’m excited about the possibility for a new understanding.” To achieve that new understanding, however, for Mzonke more risks need to be taken “and less client pleasing decision making, specifically for advertising. More honesty. The depth of the work we do is paper thin.”

As one can easily tell, quite dedicated and passionate, during the earlier days of his career, the directors would get riled up about a lot of aspects of the industry. However now he’s riding the wave of ‘those who get it get it, and - those who don’t – don’t.’

“I’d rather spend my time and mechanise my energy towards creating the environments I want to be in and making the films I want to make.” That becomes even clearer when asked what frustrates him in the industry today – “I could go on forever, but it’s useless. I can just change it.”

When it comes to the media he consumes in his free time, Mzonke goes back to his love for TV: “I’m from the generation that was raised by television.” When it comes to what exactly his TV of choice is, he reflects that he consumes anything from high art to reality TV – ‘which could be the same thing…’ 

Driven by curiosity and the need to be authentic in his work, Mzonke Maloney is a creative through and through – from a plethora of backgrounds and still eager to hear and learn more from anybody who comes his way, good storytelling is what sits at the bottom of the love he has for his work.

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Carbon Films, Thu, 20 Jan 2022 16:56:39 GMT