The Shore Break
Nonhle Mbuthuma where the river meets the sea. (Photo:

The Shore Break, a documentary about a close-knit rural community divided by plans for the development of their homeland on South Africa's Wild Coast, will have its South African co-premiere at the Durban International Film Festival on 18 July.

This follows sold-out screenings at the Encounters International Documentary Film Festival in Cape Town and Johannesburg, where it won the Backsberg Audience Choice Award, and successful appearances at a number of top international festivals. These include the International Environmental Film Festival in Paris, where it was named best feature length documentary, as well as festivals in Amsterdam, Belgium, Canada and Sydney.

  • Joburgers who missed the movie at the Encounters festival in June will get another chance to see it in August, when it will have a week of screenings (7-13 August) at The Bioscope in the Maboneng precinct: see

Directed by Ryley Grunenwald and co-produced by Johannesburg-based Marie-Vérité Films and Cape Town-based frank films, The Shore Break was made under the Department of Trade and Industry's film rebate scheme, with additional funding from the National Film and Video Foundation, Gauteng Film Commission, Ford Foundation, Knowledge Network and Heinrich Böll Foundation, among others.

Grunenwald says she was thrilled with the film's reception in Cape Town and Johannesburg in June. "The Shore Break was a labour of love, so it is very rewarding to know it is well received by South African audiences.

"It was an important story to tell because it captures the nuance and complexity around issues of developing the Wild Coast."

Story of two cousins with opposing dreams

The story follows two Pondo cousins who have opposing dreams for the future of their land: one wants to preserve it through sustainable development, the other wants to mine it for titanium, believing large-scale development is the only way to create jobs and overcome poverty.

"South Africa's Wild Coast is my favourite place in the world - it has a rugged, mysterious beauty, and our family has been visiting there for years," says Grunenwald. "When I heard about the proposed mining and toll road through the area, I could only imagine the extent of the environmental destruction of this pristine area."

Grunenwald met Nonhle Mbuthuma, a young local eco-tour guide and a staunch supporter of her people and the environment on which their livelihood and culture depends, during one of her trips to the area.

"When I found out her arch-enemy in favour of the developments was her own cousin, and that the South African government had dethroned her environmentally conscious King Mpondombini Sigcau, it felt like something out of Shakespeare. I had to make a film about it."

'I wanted the audience to see things from both sides'

In the early stages of filming, Grunenwald was firmly on the side of Mbuthuma and the environment. However, spending time with Mbuthuma's cousin, Zamille "Madiba" Qunya, a local entrepreneur and self-proclaimed modernizer, forced her to take a broader view.

"He pointed out things that I couldn't deny: the Wild Coast's dire need for more schools, hospitals and employment. He believed large-scale development is the only hope for change.

"On the other hand, Nonhle wanted development that would last longer than the 25-year lifespan of the mine. She believed alternative development such as expansive eco-tourism could develop the area without their having to give up their land and livelihood.

"Throughout production I kept changing my mind as to who was more 'right' … The complexity intrigued me, and I wanted to allow the audience to see things from both sides."

Grunenwald says she was struck by the amaMpondo's connection to their land and their determination to protect it for future generations.

"We hope The Shore Break will be seen by a wide audience - not only to entertain, but to raise awareness of what's going on and to stimulate debate about the development of our most picturesque coastline."

The Shore Break has been selected for outreach use by the Bertha BRITDOC Connect Fund. It will have free screenings in the affected area, with decision makers as well as other communities facing similar development struggles. "We're regularly partnering with more NGOs who want to use The Shore Break in their work around development, community engagement, and extractive industries," says Grunenwald.

Exquisitely filmed with arresting cinematography, The Shore Break is edited by Kerryn Assaizky, with original traditional cross-over music by local musician Ntombe Thongo, and sand animation by Justine Puren-Calverley.

Source: staff reporter

Contact the Gauteng Film Commission