Joanne is a documentary film maker from South Africa who is currently living in Sydney, Australia. She has been adopted by the Aussies here as an ‘official honorary Australian’. Joanne was born on a Friday, which according to Thai tradition means that her lucky colour is blue (I’m quite jealous, as blue is my favourite colour, but as I was born on a Thursday, my Thai lucky colour is orange – yuck!)
Originally, Joanne wanted to join the foreign service, or to be a foreign correspondent, but upon realising that she “was a bit of a sissy” she decided that being a documentary film maker may be a safer career option than running around war zones. She started out her career in television news, reporting during her university holidays when the permanent journalists were on holidays. She then directed a current affairs show, as well as a travel, technology and car show. She also got to star in the travel show when the story involved something a little bit risky that the normal presenter didn’t want to do. So, for example, Joanne got to be a passenger in a stunt plane that flew directly up into the sky, then the pilot turned off the engine, and the plane plummeted down towards the earth until the pilot turned on the engine again just before hitting the ground! Joanne actually got to do this twice in a row, as the first time the cameraman passed out during the drop and didn’t end up getting any footage!
Joanne and her co-director were commissioned to do some films about the New Millenium in South Africa. After doing this they realised that they could do this on their own and started up their own film company: http://www.pandamonium.co.za/
Joanne’s documentaries have covered topics such as:
Joanne says that her experience growing up in South Africa during apartheid, and being very aware of the abuses during that time, compelled her into this kind of work. She explained that as a child it was a bit of a shock coming out of her bubble and realising that the situation was not normal. She said at first she didn’t realise anything was wrong. She went to a private primary school with mostly white students, although there were a few black and Indian students (whose parents had money). At the time, the only difference that she noticed was that those students were not allowed to come to her house (as they weren’t allowed in a ‘white’ area). As she grew older she started to notice other things. Joanne had a black maid who raised her and was like a second mother to her. Her maid had seven children of her own, who were being raised by the maid’s sister in a distant township. Joanne did think that it wasn’t right that her maid could only visit her children once or twice a year, and it seemed strange to her that her maid wasn’t taking care of her own children.
In Joanne’s final year of school, apartheid laws were starting to be relaxed and some schools (including hers) were declared “Model C” schools. These schools were an initial attempt at integration, and a few black students were allowed to join the school. Joanne still remembers the headmistress making an announcement over the school loudspeaker welcoming “the new model C” students. She also remembers that many of the white girls would bring notes from their parents exempting them from swimming, as their parents did not want them getting into the pool with black students. Joanne lived through the State of Emergency in the 80s and remembers the tanks in the streets, but says that she was lucky to live a fairly sheltered life. She is proud of the fact that her very first vote at age 18 was in such an important election for South Africa and equality.
Joanne described, very matter-of-factly, living through the daily reality of violence in South Africa. She lived in high security accommodation and carried a panic button. She was also car-jacked one day when she was driving with her boyfriend. They had stopped at an intersection when suddenly there were men with guns surrounding the car. Joanne and her boyfriend got out of the car and the men demanded she hand over her handbag and the car keys while they held a gun to her boyfriend’s head. Joanne, feisty with adrenaline, refused, despite her boyfriend sensibly suggesting that she hand it all over. Joanne explains that she was particularly upset because her handbag had been designed by a friend of hers and was known as the “Jo” bag. (Later, she and her friend jokingly developed a funny TV commercial based on the carjacking, where the woman tells the men to take the car and her boyfriend, but just let her keep the bag). In hindsight, Joanne can’t quite believe that she put her boyfriend’s and her own lives at risk by not handing everything over right away. She surprised herself by her own reaction in the heat of the moment. Eventually, having handed over everything, the men drove away in her car (a beloved purple Ford Fiesta known as “the raisin” – hardly the normal target for a carjacking!). Soon afterwards, a kindly stranger stopped to see what she and her boyfriend were doing standing in the road, and let them know that “the raisin” had been abandoned just down the road – it had been used to steal another, presumably more attractive, car!
Later, interviewing young male prisoners for the violent crime documentary, she shared her carjacking story with one of them as the cameraman was getting set up. The prisoner was astounded and told Joanne that she was very lucky that the people who carjacked her were clearly amateurs as they broke the rule that if the person doesn’t hand everything over within sixty seconds you shoot them (“like the Americans made that movie ‘gone in 60 seconds’ if you are not out the car in 60 seconds you are gone”)!
In 2002 Joanne worked at the United Nations in Holland, covering the Yugoslavian War
Crimes Tribunal. She was an audio-visual director so she made short films about the tribunal, handled all audio-visual evidence and recorded the hearings. There were 8 robotic cameras in each courtroom, which she operated and had to live switch between. The big trials, like Milosovich often went out live on various channels like Sky, CNN, BBC etc. so you had to be sure not to make a mistake or show any judges sleeping! During this time, Joanne also got to carry a walkie-talkie which she thought was pretty cool.
Joanne said that it mostly made her very depressed to sit for 6 hours a day listening to horrific things that humans did to other humans. But it was also amazing to be a part of documenting history as it was the first war crimes trial since Nuremberg. She also learned just how bureaucratic and hierarchical the UN is, which shattered all her ideological illusions of how it would be to work there. Outside of work, Joanne definitely enjoyed living in Holland, riding her bike and eating stroopwaffels and bitterballen.
I asked Joanne how she ended up in Australia. Weirdly, it all started with another crime (although I guess that’s how a lot of white people got to Australia in the first place!) Joanne was backpacking around Central America and she was robbed in Mexico. The thief took her passport and all her money. The loss of her passport was particularly traumatic, because it contained visas for her entry to other countries on her trip that she had organised in advance (it’s quite difficult for South Africans to travel as they need special visas in many countries and also have to demonstrate that they have money, etc.). She went to the South African embassy, but they told her that she couldn’t get a new passport without money, despite the obvious problem that all her money and her wallet had been stolen along with the passport! Joanne met an Australian who had also been robbed, and he had gone to the Australian embassy and not only had they organised him a new passport quickly, they also gave him money to use until he had received replacement bank cards. Joanne thought to herself “now there’s a country”!
When she got back to South Africa she applied for permanent residency in Australia. She eventually received approval and had five years to move there. She had just started up her own business and decided it was not the right time to move, but one week before the five year period was over, she got on a plane and moved to Sydney! The conditions of her permanent residency were that she had to reapply for it to be extended after two years. However, she was offered the Rotary Peace Fellowship and so was going to be out of the country at the time she had to make the application. She went to the immigration department in Sydney with a big bundle of documents and references to try to negotiate a renewal in advance so that she could come to Thailand. She was prepared for a difficult negotiation. The first thing that she was asked was what she had contributed to Australia during her time there. She told the woman about the documentary she made about Australian Prime Ministers for the Museum of Australian Democracy. The woman got very excited and asked her “is that the one that you see on the TV screens with the headphones as you first go in on the right hand side”? Jo, surprised, said yes, that was it. The woman then started gushing about how wonderful it was and how pleased she was to meet the woman who made the documentary, and approved her extension with no further questions. Joanne laughed and said that she should have asked for citizenship!
Don't forget to stop and smell the flowers!