UVic historian’s film unearths African women’s struggle

The Thinking Garden will have a free screening March 1 at UVic's David Lam Auditorium

There will be a free public showing of The Thinking Garden 7 p.m. Wednesday at UVic’s David Lam Auditorium.

The work of three generations of women to create a community garden in their South African village has blossomed into a documentary film by a University of Victoria historian.

UVic historian Elizabeth Vibert teamed up with award-winning director Christine Welsh to produce The Thinking Garden, showing how women facing the challenges of climate change and poverty can gain a measure of control over their lives. The half-hour documentary premieres March 1 at 7 p.m. with a free public screening in UVic’s David Lam Auditorium. The filmmakers will be present for discussion following the film.

Vibert had been visiting the village since 2012, working on an oral history project with the farmers when one approached her and asked her about making a movie.

“That planted the seed and I said, ‘Wow, they are an incredibly inspiring story and it really would be well suited to the screen.’ It was their idea and I just ran with it.”

Vibert called her first filmmaking project an eye-opening experience, crediting Welsh for bringing her vision to the screen.

“She’s especially experienced in making films about women coming together to overcome severe challenges. That’s sort of her area of expertise.”

The Thinking Garden follows three generations of women creating a community garden during the dying days of Apartheid. The garden, which has now been in operation for 25 years, provides fresh vegetables and opportunities for the local villagers while helping confront the ravages of poverty, climate change and AIDS.

“The garden has been vitally important to the community, especially as the effects of climate change get worse. It provides local, affordable produce that otherwise people have to travel on public transit to buy fresh vegetables,” said Vibert.

More familiar with writing about history, Vibert said her first venture into filmmaking was extremely challenging.

“The film was shot entirely in the women’s language, which is xiTsonga. Then we have English subtitles,” she said. “It was a huge challenge to work in a completely different cultural setting and a different language.”

She credits the work of a local South African woman, Basani Ngobeni, who served as the assistant director, acted as translator and helped arrange for all of the crew’s needs.

Vibert thinks the film will resonate with the Victoria audience.

“Wherever you go in the world, local farmers are at the heart of communities,” she said. “They build communities, they feed communities, they support communities – and they need our support.”


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