Although the 2009 SAFTAs have come and gone, the event did bring to the fore exciting new talent to look out for in the near future, adding to the skills base of Gauteng's burgeoning and expanding film industry.

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Thomas Gumede
In Focus spoke to two of these winners, Thomas Gumede and Justine Puren, to find out just what has made them already stand out in the fast growing movie sector.

Commenting on his first ever award at the SAFTAs, Gumede said: �I won Best Actor in a drama series 2009! For me, the award means that I am on the right track; it is an affirmation that I am following my dream and if I continue to work hard, stay hungry and treat every job like it�s my first project then I will grow into an internationally acclaimed actor.�

As a young award-winning filmmaker, he feels that �the time is right for the young guns to step up to the occasion, do more, do whatever it takes to translate our passion, energy and skill into a booming film industry.�

He holds a Live Performance BA degree, obtained at AFDA in 2006. His accolade at 2009 SAFTAs should come as no surprise, considering his thorough formal training at the famed film training school.

�AFDA was a practical school for me to practise acting and performance in all spheres. Before I had attended AFDA, I had absolutely no training - just passion and a dream of being able to crack it. Another advantage is that we were encouraged to always understand the theory behind what you are doing, which often gives you the edge,� beamed the youthful film man.

He views the film industry as a �crazy and exciting journey that I appreciate and love.�

After his triumph, what�s next?

�Convincing people that our film industry is an untapped gold mine! If we could just trust ourselves more, be more patriotic with our stories and our land then we wouldn't have Clint Eastwood, Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman telling our most important stories for us, in our own country. Don't get me wrong, they do great films and they are welcome here but we need to take ownership of our indigenous stories,� he stresses.

Do you think financiers in the local film industry are doing enough to help upcoming talent? �No. But I do hate being a victim, so perhaps we as talent are not showing ourselves to be attractive enough. It doesn't help for us to know what we are worth if we cannot translate that into a language that financiers will understand.�

Gumede sees himself contributing a lot to the film industry in Gauteng. Last year, he worked on three independent low budget feature films with Joziewood Productions which are all scheduled to come out this year on DVD. He also co wrote, produced and acted in a film called R100 which is due for release this year.

�I just want to shoot films, that�s it!� he declared.

With a hint to the filmmaking fraternity, he said that if the industry was �united�, then the future was �very bright and full of wealth�.
�This is an unbelievable medium to tell stories and reach the masses, the commercial potential in that is huge!�

Gumede aspires to become an internationally acclaimed actor and filmmaker, and contribute to revolutionise not only the Gauteng film industry but also the rest of Africa .

Another young filmmaker, Justine Puren, walked away with The Best Director for a student film The Shadow Boy, which also won the Best Student film award.

Despite this upbeat side of her life, she played down the award, saying: �It's obviously a great honor, but with all the controversy surrounding the SAFTAS and the small amount of entries, you realise very quickly that it's not really a true representation of the best student work in South Africa, just the best out of the films that were submitted.

�Having said that, though, it has sparked an interest in The Shadow Boy that has been completely unexpected and it is a small personal triumph to know that a sand animation (the cheapest and most low-tech form of animation) competed against films with bigger budgets that were technically a lot more complex and logistically challenging,� she said.

Her success at the SAFTAs 2009 comes despite the expectations she had initially on entering the movie sector. �When I did the animation course at AFDA, it was still quite new and there was no real focus on computer animation, so even though we learnt the most important aspects of animation such as timing, design, narrative and performance, getting employed as a traditional animator was virtually impossible except for a handful of projects here and there.

�It is unfortunate that there aren't a number of companies focusing on traditional animation, but we were taught to, essentially, be independent film makers.�

However, her view is that �there is a growing interest in animation and some of the work being done in South Africa now.�

Puren is a 2007 Animation Honours student from AFDA. Currently, she is working in the research department at Velocity Films and then also doing independent animations in her spare time.

She plans to stay in research for a while as well as continue to do freelance and independent animation. �To be completely honest, I'm really not to sure where all of that will take me but - take a chance, win a prize!�