Sibs Shongwe-La Mer on Black and White Cinema


A Colourless Dream written by Sibs Shongwe-La Mer:

Growing up in a corner of Africa void of a thriving cinema culture of its own, my teens were vastly spent in my room near a projector screening any foreign cinema I could get my hands on. I remember the overwhelming sense of enchantment I experienced seeing Paris for the first time through the romantic black and white lens of directors such as Truffaut and Godard; seeing Marlon Brando towering over the New York docks in On The Waterfront and feeling the deficient wild energy of America’s forgotten streets through the shutters of Amos Poe and Jim Jarmusch.

Embedded in these drained images is an inexplicable mystic that makes each new land visited feel almost a portrait of another world. Like the great colouring book of our time, pictures photographed in this stark classic palette have always given me a view of the outlines, shapes and aesthetics of a time, but allowed me the joy of colouring it in with my own imagination’s brushstrokes. Black and white cinema lets us conjure our own dream of a world or to reimagine it in a hyper-cinematic way that can only be seen through the monochrome lens.

I think the heart of the cinema along with our society’s finest memories, grandest romances, greatest fears and biggest blunders have been forever trapped in the time capsule of the drained screen. That same time capsule that harbours our evolving thoughts, forever teaching us how to ‚Äúface the music and dance‚Äù and weep together in the dark movie homes. As such, the black and white images of our past and present have felt particularly intimate and close to me. Almost as if to anchor me to the world’s forgotten days and propel me to the future all the same. Creating black and white film has always felt almost religious to me. I have always felt that rolling my camera in this same tradition was more than an absent homage, it felt more like a communion with the world, like me carving my name on the face of our collective history.


Sibs Shongwe-La Mer is a Johannesburg-based independent filmmaker best known for his award-winning feature film Necktie Youth, shot in black and white. 


Video credits: A video by Casimir filmed at the EYE Filmmuseum’s Michelangelo Antonioni exhibition. Narration written by Sibs Shongwe-La Mer, read by Bonko Cosmo Khoza. Necktie Youth footage courtesy of Urucu Media.



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