Kurt Orderson is a natural storyteller. In fact, hours could pass while talking to him and you wouldn’t notice. The documentary film-maker and producer is passionate about his work and most of all wants to tell an honest story.
He has travelled extensively all over the world, living in many places and his many experiences have shaped him into an open-minded person.
Orderson’s current film project is titled Not in My Neighbourhood. The film was first conceived in 2013 and looks at the forces that can change neighbourhoods. The documentary is an examination of the effects of gentrification (through which the rising price of urban housing forces poorer people out) and colonisation of spaces in three cities – Cape Town, São Paulo and New York – and the parallels between them. Orderson terms this “spatial violence” against ordinary citizens and is particularly interested in the psychological trauma the process inflicts.
“My interest in land issues has been ongoing for many years. It’s always about reclaiming space and about memory. My aim is for people to take power back and tell the story their own way. Don’t let anyone hijack your story. We need to reclaim memory, resistance and survival.”
Orderson travelled to New York and São Paulo, doing research in various communities and a series of interviews, and finding some kind of common link between the cities.
The story is a personal one because both his parents lived in areas like Woodstock and Salt River and were moved due to the Group Areas Act. Now a similar thing is happening in those areas again, where people are being forced to leave.
The idea for the documentary came about through a conversation with his father, reminiscing about life in Woodstock and working in the building that has now become the Woodstock Exchange.
“Gentrification is just a new form of modern day colonialism. It has been coined different names but it’s the same thing. Look at who owns property and land and what gives people power. A people without land is a people without history and culture. I’m very passionate about this and would love to see in my lifetime some kind of reparation done.”
Orderson recently returned from a research trip to New York and New Orleans and moves frequently between South Africa and the US. He is also a guest lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania.
Previous film projects have involved work that observed land reform, hip hop, farm workers, Pan-African identity and alternative histories.
Orderson grew up in Mitchells Plain, the only son among five siblings. He said his sisters had influenced him greatly growing up. He also cited hip hop as one of his earliest gateways to becoming more conscious. One of his sisters is a journalist and activist and her work inspired him greatly. His mother was a factory worker for 30 years and his father a screen-printer.
“My sisters were highly political and in youth movements in Mitchells Plain. I saw them getting active and learning and travelling and I was highly inspired. They really opened the doors for me and now we are living the dream that our parents didn’t get to,” he said.
Growing up in Mitchells Plain wasn’t easy, but he found a way to leave at some point. After one of his best friends was killed in the early 2000s, he decided to move to inner-city Joburg.
“Cape Flats taught me the streets, but Joburg taught me the hustle. I’m a hybrid between the two cities,” he said, adding that Joburg had been central to his maturing as a person and as a film-maker. Orderson spent many years working there. He moves moves between Cape Town and Joburg and says he is an embodiment of both cities.
Fuelled by the desire to tell his stories, Orderson studied film and got further into working in the industry via various internships. His focus was to acquire skills across the board, from cinematography to writing, directing and producing.
“Steel met die oog (Steal with the eye)”, is how he describes his way of learning many things at once.
One of his first films, The Prodigal Son, received high acclaim and pivots on travelling to the Caribbean to find the roots of his great grandfather, who came from Barbados to Cape Town in the 1890s.
Orderson said he is interested in developing new avenues of creativity. One is getting further into the visual arts through video installations. He would also like to shift his focus from document-aries to feature films.
Lastly, in another burst of creativity, he has started a fashion label designing shirts, one of which he wore at the interview.
l Not in my Neighbourhood is due to be released in August. For more information about Orderson’s work see http://azaniarizing.tumblr.com.