The Shore Break – a mining dilemma on the Wild Coast

The Shore Break film
The Shore Break unpacks the dilemma faced by a rural community on South Africa’s Wild Coast as to whether to support or resist a proposed titanium mining project.

Directed by Ryley Grunenwald, The Shore Break was a selected project at the 2012 Durban FilmMart, the IDFA WorldView Summer School 2013, the Hot Docs Forum 2012 and the Hot Docs Dealmakers 2013.

It is co-produced by two South African companies, Grunenwald’s Johannebsurg-based Marie-Vérité Films and Odette Geldenhuys’ Cape Town-based frank films. It was in competition at the recent International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IFDA), and was named the Best Feature Length Documentary at the 2015 International Environmental Film Festival (FIFE) in Paris.

In the Amadiba area, in the heart of the breathtakingly beautiful Wild Coast, the Pondo people have tended their traditional way of life for centuries.

A proposed titanium mine and the government’s controversial plan to build a highway across this ancestral ground, has polarized the community with those that see it as the beginning of the destruction of a way of life, and others who see it as a beacon of economic hope for the region.

The Shore break documentary
The Wild Coast is one of the most picturesque and untamed areas in South Africa

Nonhle Mbuthuma, a young local eco-tour guide, is a staunch supporter of her people and the endangered environment on which their livelihood and culture depends. She wants to develop eco-tourism in order to protect her community’s homes, farms, graves and traditional lifestyle.

Her cousin Zamille “Madiba” Qunya, a local entrepreneur and self-proclaimed modernizer, is fully supportive of the proposed mining operations and highway construction. Tired of his community living in poverty, Madiba scurrilously courts private capital and questionable government officials. While the South African President deposes the pro-environment Pondo Royal Family, Nonhle rallies support with little more than dogged determination.

“South Africa’s Wild Coast is my favourite place in the world – it has a rugged, mysterious beauty, and our family has been visiting there for years. When I heard about the proposed mining and toll road through the area, I could only imagine the extent of the environmental destruction of this pristine area,” says Grunenwald.

“I met Nonhle Mbuthuma, who is a leader in her community, on one of my trips there. When I found out her arch enemy in favour of the developments was her own cousin and that the South African Government had dethroned her environmentally-conscious King Mpondombini Sigcau, it felt like something out of Shakespeare. I had to make a film about it.”

“In the early stages of filming I was only aware of how the titanium mine and highway threatened whatever was in their pathway,” explains Grunenwald. “However spending time with Madiba definitely made me see things from a broader perspective. He pointed out things that I couldn’t deny: the Wild Coast’s dire need for more schools, hospitals and employment. He believed large-scale development is the only hope for change.

The shore break documentary
Zamile ‘Madiba’ Qunya at the titanium-rich dunes at Xolobeni

On the other hand Nonhle wanted development that would last longer than the 25-year lifespan of the mine. She believed alternative development such as expansive eco-tourism could develop the area without their having to give up their land and livelihood.

Throughout production I kept changing my mind as to who was more ‘right’ about the development of the Wild Coast.

The complexity intrigued me and I wanted to allow the audience to see things from both sides.”

“It is very easy for urban middle class people to want to protect the environment when its preservation does not impair their own access to necessary facilities,” says Grunenwald. “However rural people should not have to give up their land and livelihood in order to access basic services and opportunities.

I was struck by the amaMpondo’s connection to their land and their determination to protect it for future generations no matter what the cost. They are willing to die for it. We hope The Shore Break will be seen by a wide audience – not only to entertain but to raise awareness of what’s going on and to stimulate debate about the development of our most picturesque coastline.”

Co-producer Geldenhuys, a public interest and human rights lawyer, says “I am very interested in what is development? How is it defined? Who defines? By being structured around the drama of a family feud, The Shore Break manages to ask this question in a non-academic way, but in a manner that ordinary people can relate to.”

Exquisitely filmed with arresting cinematography, The Shore Break is edited by Kerryn Assaizky, with original traditional cross-over music by local musician Ntombe Thongo, and sand animation by award-winning animator Justine Puren-Calverley.

The almost Kentridgesque animation links sections and propositions in the film, subtly providing context and silent commentary, creating opportunities for the audience to reflect and muse.

The Shore Break has been selected by Bertha BRITDOC Connect Fund to use the film for outreach. The film will have free screenings in the affected area, with decision makers as well as other communities facing similar development struggles.

Mtentu River estuary
The Mtentu River estuary

“We’re regularly partnering with more NGOs who want to use The Shore Break in their work around development, community engagement, and extractive industries, “says Grunenwald.

The film has been made possible by the South African government’s DTI Film Rebate Scheme, a public sector initiative which is ensuring that South African films, including The Shore Break are reaching exhibition. Other funders include Ford Foundation, National Film and Video Foundation, Knowledge Network, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Gauteng Film Commission, Worldview, Alter Cine Foundation, and the Hot Docs Blue Ice Film Fund.

The film will screen at Encounters International Documentary Film Festival in Cape Town during 4 to 14 June 2015 and at the Durban International Film Festival which takes place from July 16 to 26, 2015.

It will also screen at the Sydney International Film Festival during June 2015; and has already been screened at the Festival Millennium 2015, Belgium, and Hot Docs 2015 in Canada.

For more information go to

The Shore Break documentary trailer (May 2015) from Ryley Grunenwald on Vimeo.


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