5 minutes with … Mumtaaz Mahomed Peerbhay
• Tell us about yourself – who are you and what do you do?
I am a Muslim, businesswoman, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, soon to be wife and very passionate documentary filmmaker. Academically qualified with a triple major in Film, Drama and English Literature, from the University of the Witwatersrand, as well as working in the trenches of South African television for the past ten years, its hard then to tell that I fell into film making by accident. At a young age I was fortunate enough to direct an award winning short documentary (Made in China), series direct a youth technology show (Technorati), create a popular prime time factual format for local television (Our Perfect Wedding), lead a team in channel playout for an Afrikaans lifestyle channel on pay TV (VIA), Executive Produce a docu-reality series for the national broadcaster (Botho – an act of kindness) and most recently work on the first ever 5 min episodic drama series for an app (Netwerk 24). For the past three years I have served as a SAFTA judge for documentary short, feature, wildlife and natural history.
• What are you currently up to? Are there any exciting projects ongoing?
My latest project is one that is quite a personal journey, especially as a Muslim woman filmmaker. Last year I travelled to Pakistan and fell in love with the mysticism of the Sufi world. The documentary tells the untold story of a great Sufi saint, that spent 50 years “sitting” in a cave in constant prayer whist surviving only on salt and water as nutrition. Every year thousands gather from all parts of the world to commemorate the saint. The story refracts through the lens from a female perspective, which was particularly challenging because as a Muslim woman, I relied heavily on my male crew to capture the essence of the Sufi saint and this fascinating world.
• What’s your best project/work to date?
They say that you’re only as good as your last piece of work and I believe that whole heartedly as I generally put all my heart and soul into a project. My first documentary. Made in China allowed me to set the bar high and make a name for myself in the industry. This high standard then created a ripple effect with all the work that followed suit and for me it is my best work to date. Being my first film, about close subject matter, not only added to my list of accolades but the film is still making a contribution to society as it is still used at various tertiary institutions, ten years since its inception.
• Who or what inspires you?
Growing up nomadically I learnt that places and circumstances don’t define you but the people you surround yourself surely play a big role in the person you become or not become like. With this notion I draw a lot of inspiration from the people around me. From the resilient, courageous and smart women in my family and circle of friends to the average man on the street. Inspiration in human form allows me the privilege and opportunity to tell the stories that often go unnoticed and unheard.
• When you’re not working, what do you like to do?
When I’m not working, I love spending time with those near and dear to me. Apart from being a filmmaker, I also run a catering company with my mom. Entertaining guests and conversing over good food is one of my favourite past times. That and watching the sunset are a few of my favourite things to do in life. When I’m not working, watching the sunset, eating and enjoying good food with close friends and family, I live for some good old adrenaline rushes: shark cage diving, bungee jumping, sky diving, edge-walking off buildings, free-falling…you know, the usual get-your-heart-pumping rushes.
• Finally, what tips or advice could you give to other documentary creatives, just starting out or to the most experienced creatives needing a bit of encouragement?
“Remember why you started and never give up even when all the odds are against you.” This might sound like simple advice but is apt and useful to both the up and coming and experienced filmmaker. Simple, yet effective advice…whenever I feel like giving up, I stop in the moment and remember why I became a filmmaker. Fame and fortune is not the sole aim of filmmaking but rather using that fame and fortune in making an impactful and meaningful difference in society are a few reasons we become documentary filmmakers in the first place. Creatives are the most dangerous, as they mix with all classes of society. Be fearless and unapologetically brave and it will surely reflect in your work.