Giant Films comes full circle. Introducing Giant95 in Joburg.
April this year was a momentous month for the team at Giant Films. Partners Ian Gabriel, Cindy Gabriel and Emma Lundy launched Giant95 – a fresh new offering tapping into the zeitgeist of the next generation of filmmakers, set to answer a call for quick and agile filmmaking solutions in Joburg. We met up with Cindy and Emma, and Giant95 Creative Producer Allison Swank and Giant95 Director Thati Peele to find out the ‘why, who, what and where’ of Giant95.
Cindy breaks it down: ‘Giant95 will cultivate a future culture within the Giant Films family in Joburg. The Directors from both Giant Films and Giant95 will crossover on rosters depending on what briefs come in, which will in turn offer invaluable opportunities for mentorship, development and collaboration between everyone within the Giant family.’
Whether it’s traditional commercials, short films, music video, documentaries or content pieces, for Giant95 it’s all about the attitude in their approach to the work. Allison, who shares Cindy’s passion and sensibility around developing talent, adds: ‘It’s a lighter can-do approach to filmmaking with an agile mindset which also means we are nimble in the way we work.’
iDidTht: Look, we’ve heard rumors that Giant Films is doing pretty damn well, so why Joburg and why now?
Emma: Well, currently the lion share of our work for Giant Films comes from Joburg agencies, so seeing as we’re working in Joburg daily, we felt that this offering would consolidate and build on our long-established roots in the city.
Cindy: There are so many exciting Directors emerging that have a fresh view on filmmaking and we wanted to create a home for them and create a place to exchange and share ideas. Ian has been mentoring and guiding generations of filmmakers, and there’s a real excitement from our Giant Films roster to continue in that spirit to support and collaborate with the Giant95 roster.
Thati: Something very special is happening in Johannesburg right now – culturally and artistically but especially with the young generation of creatives who have the ability to access that space really quickly and move on projects quite lightly. I think that is probably the best way to define why we are in that space. You’ll also find there are so many different continental voices in Joburg that it feels like a lot of what’s happening on the continent has microcosms in Joburg and that adds another layer to it. It’s very special.
Allison: I moved to Joburg from New York almost 5 years ago and have never looked back. I teamed up with Director Adriaan Louw in Joburg and we have shot some of our best films here. The raw talent and brilliant creativity in the city captivated our international clients and kept them coming back. Adriaan and I found our home in Giant Films. It’s a big honour for me to live and work in Joburg and to head up ’95.
What’s in the name?
Cindy: Ian tells the story about ‘Giant’ being the last movie that James Dean made – he died in a road accident eight days after he finished shooting, and it was also one of the first movies that Dennis Hopper made. So ‘Giant’ was the movie that saw the baton of cool passing from one generation to the next. So back in 1995 we thought that Giant was a good name for our edgy film company, with Ian as one of the very few Directors of colour in the commercial industry at that time. Now Giant95 references the year Giant first launched in 1995, that’s its origin story and I think it gives Giant Films fresh validation and renewed purpose with the combined rosters representing four Directors of colour, and four women Directors in our pool of eight. So it’s really an origin and a legacy story. And this is just the beginning, there is plenty of work to be done.
After Allison and Cindy had been wandering around Victoria Yards, a short walk from where Giant Films first opened its doors, they decided then and there that that would be where Giant95 would be based.
Cindy: Joburg is very much who we are and where Ian and I come from and this feeling of coming full circle, in our old neighborhood, is very important to us.
Emma: Timing has been fortuitous – Thati was standing by and ready to shoot for FoxP2 as Giant95 opened its doors, and our most recent signing, Thea Small, just finished shooting her first piece, featuring Sho Madjozi.
We caught up with Ian to hear what he had to say…
Ian: What I’m loving most is that we have fresh opportunities to collaborate with and provide meaningful mentorship to our new Directors – and that culture has just kept spreading through the company. On most of our shoots we make sure that there’s a collab between one of our more experienced Directors and our newer Directors. A lot of the collaboration happens up front at the idea and discussion stage when we all work together to deliver the best possible creative for the job. Between us there’s a great openness and diversity providing a real fresh and interesting take on so much we can embrace that threads through all our creative endeavors. Thati helped me out on my last job, which had a two week turnaround, and we had a lot of fun working together on that.
iDidTht: What were you looking for in the filmmakers that would share in the Giant95 future?
Cindy: We went through a lot of work to find what resonated with us. When Thati walked through the door completely independently, not even knowing that we were creating Giant95, we looked at her work and loved it. Allison introduced us to Katya who is a formidable young filmmaker, and Thea has grown through the research department at Giant, and is soon to make her move to Joburg.
Emma: Adding Adriaan into the mix has been exciting for us too. With his background in music videos, and having entrenched himself in Africa and downtown Jozi sub-culture, Adriaan brings this experience as well as a fresh work ethic into the ’95 space.
Thati on Giant Films: Their state of mind, philosophy and approach really appealed to me and Cindy and Ian were also the people who encouraged me to follow my dream of filmmaking, so it just made sense.
Allison: I think Giant95 also looks for a certain level of craft, airtight storytelling and taste.
From left: Producer Allison Swank, Director and Photographer Katya Abedian, Director Thati Peele, and Director Thea Small.
Giant95 Producer: Allison Swank
After completing a Masters Degree in African Studies at the University of Cape Town, Allison Swank headed up film production for New York-based publications Okayafrica and Okayplayer. Since moving to Joburg, she has produced and directed documentaries, brand films, and music videos with some of the country’s most visionary up-and-coming Directors as well as working in creative partnership with Giant Films Director Adriaan Louw.
Giant95 Director: Thati Peele
After casually earning a degree in mathematics and statistics from UCT (what have you done today?), an encounter with Ian and Cindy in a bar in Durban led Thati to apply to New York University’s Graduate Film Programme. After 6 years in the brutal Tisch-mill, where Thati very much developed an understanding of her esthetic and voice, she returned home and made the short film, Lerato. The film premiered at SXSW Film Festival in 2015 and won her the Best Director Award at the New York Fusion Film Festival, as well as the New Talent prize at CICLOPE Africa 2019. Not only is she now a launch Director at Giant95 but she lectures a film module at Wits University. Thati is intent on bringing her singular vision to African filmmaking.
Lerato (Short Film) directed by Thati Peele
Spotify directed by Thati Peele
Giant95 Director and Photographer: Katya Abedian
Katya is a South-African Iranian film Director and Photographer passionate about shedding light on stories of the human spirit and the power of resilience. In April 2018 Katya’s directorial debut, a short film titled Skin Diver, premiered in Cape Town, and has since been screened in Joburg, Barcelona, Paris and Cannes, as well as the Czech Republic and Ghana. Skin Diver was awarded Best South African Student Film at the Jozi Film Festival 2018. Oh, and did we mention she is only 20 years old and also a full-time medical student? (Yes, we are seriously reevaluating our life choices right now).
Skin Diver (Short Film) directed by Katya Abedian
‘There Is No Box’ directed by Katya Abedian
Giant Director: Thea Small
After receiving SAFTAS nominations for both her Honours films, Thea has written for several notable South African TV Shows (including the International Emmy-nominated Sokhulu and Partners) and was one of 15 African filmmakers selected for the Durban International Film Festival’s Talent Campus in 2016. More recently, she’s assisted several top commercial Directors and has provided integral creative support for Giant as head of the research team.
From directing her first commercial spot, an upbeat, comedic femcare spot starring Sho Madjozi, to creating an intimate character journey in her latest music video, Obsolete, Thea’s talents reveal a range of capabilities, grounded in a keen sense of storytelling and performance.
‘Obsolete’ Music Video directed by Thea Small
Produced by the iDidTht Content Studio
Credits: Anne Hirsch (Writer) / Julie Maunder
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