Wits graduate directs fashion documentary

Recent Wits urban and regional planning graduate, Francesco Mbele (20), directs Universal Elixir, a behind-the-scenes documentary on a short film come fashion show, Banyoloyi a Bosigo (Ultimate Midnight Angels).  

The short film for Thebe Magugu’s  Autumn/Winter 2021 Paris Fashion Week show works in tandem with his collection Alchemy, described by the designer as an “exploration of the changing face of African Spirituality.” The documentary premiered on Magugu’s YouTube channel on the 25th of March 2021 and the short film on the 2nd of March. 

Shot in the style of 70s Japanese Pink Films, the short film and documentary follow the same unique editing style personal to Francesco’s general  filmmaking aesthetic. He describes the film as a heart-warming, emotive and sincere compliment to the short film. In considering the magnitude of the film for South African fashion, especially “post ’94, we really have to tell our stories, telling the story of how the film was produced was something in its own right, which had to be broadcast to the world” says Francesco. 

Cast members on the third day of filming in looks from Alchemy PHOTO: Francesco Mbele

In discussing location and set, he mentions shooting the river side scenes on the second day at the Cradle Moon Lakeside Game Lodge as challenging. Together with the film’s director, Kristin-Lee Moolman, Francesco works around these challenges with different filming techniques and breaking away from their original vision for the documentary.  

On the third day of shooting, the location was a mine dump in the South West of Johannesburg, which becomes the stage, on which a big battle scene occurs. Francesco climbed and navigated himself around the mounds of yellow and white sand dunes, using the height to his advantage in capturing wonderful long shots the young documentarian loves to shoot.

Shot in chronological order, Universal Elixir differs from the progression of events in  Banyoloyi a Bosigo. To differentiate the two, Francesco sequences and edits shots to form a narrative in the documentary that is not relative to the short film. Having worked as a photographer and creative director on previous projects with Magugu, Francesco wanted a position in the background for      this documentary, providing him with a unique viewpoint to “create the story behind the story” concludes Francesco. 

FEATURED IMAGE:  Universal Elixir documentarian Francesco Mbele PHOTO: Francesco Mbele 

Wits News: A workshop on the feature length documentary

[Information taken from Wits News: email wits.news@wits.ac.za]

The South African Guild of Editors (SAGE) and In the Bag – a Wits Film and TV initiative – present a talk by Catherine Meyburgh and Susan Scott, celebrated South African editors and members of SAGE.

Documentary films are known for high shooting ratios. The editor may work through hundreds, even thousands of hours of raw material before arriving at the final film. How does one begin to think of a structure for a feature length documentary?

How do you keep it all organised? Is working on a wildlife documentary different to working on a documentary with human subjects? These are the questions Meyburgh and Scott will consider.


Date: 20 June 2013

Time: 17:30 for 18:00

Venue: The Appollonia, Wits School of Arts