African storytelling comes of age in CODA

The urban documentary delves into how we mark the passing of time

Director Hallie Haller’s short documentary CODA is already turning heads. It was officially selected for the SA Indie Film Fest, the African Film Festival in Atlanta, and The Jozi Film Festival in 2021. The coming-of-age story follows urban youth considering the meaning of the passing of time as they cruise through the streets of Johannesburg near the end of December.

“Finding the meaning took a lot of patience,” Haller explains. “The first interviews for CODA were done in December of 2019. We shot all of the characters on the back of a moving van in the same week. A few months later, early in the edit process, we went into lockdown. Working remotely wasn’t working, so we had to take a break.”

In December 2020, Haller shot some cityscapes with a different crew, having gained a new perspective of what the documentary might look like.

The final reel is a gritty exploration of what young people in Mzansi want out of life. “Time passes and we lose our jobs, or lose our loved ones, or lose hope, or just lose sight of what the point of it all is,” Haller explains. “Life is so expansive and overwhelming. And sometimes it’s hard to comprehend what doing it ‘right’ might even look like. And we don’t talk about that enough. What does it mean to exist in time, the way that we measure and gauge it? How does time become something we measure and gauge ourselves by?”

A coda – a concluding event or remark – typically brings something to an end. And for Haller, reflecting on the end of the year is a form of ritual. “In the same way that birthdays and anniversaries are endings that are also beginnings, the end of the year reminds us that time is passing,” she says, adding that marking such moments allows us to move forward with purpose.

“When we set out to film, I wanted to consider the documentary format as a medium for ritual, rather than a neatly deposited, consumption-ready media statement. In pre-production, I really asked what it would mean to change in the process of making something, and what it would mean to engage subjects in ritual rather than documentation.”

CODA’s existential focus is compelling. A finalist at the NewFilmmakers NY film festival in 2022, the film is generating debate and giving South Africans yet another reason to be proud of our questing creatives.

Give the film a watch here

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