The U.S. State Department and mvtU unveiled the 2011 Fulbright mtvU Fellowship winners recently and Meja Shoba is one of them. Here, she tells rolling out her future plans.
What is the origin of your name?
My name is South African, specifically a name from the Bapedi people, which is what I am. Both of my parents are South African, and my father named me Ramadimetsé, which means one who lives forever. Meja is my nickname.
How did you become a Fulbright mtvU scholar?
I’ve known about the Fulbright program for quite some time, but my good friend, Theodora Guliadis, informed me of the Fulbright-mtvU Fellowship. She encouraged me to apply because she knew of my interest in film, photography, music and culture. I thank her for that.
Why did you decide to study creative writing, and then film?
I love writing. It’s always been something that I’ve been passionate about, and have been doing it since I was young. Being able to creatively express my imagination through words is something I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing. My interest in film sprouted when I was 14 years old but it wasn’t a straight path. I fell in love with film because of the beauty and careful detailing in its visual storytelling along with the emotion it can evoke. I became very keen to study film once I graduated from high school but made a creative writing detour in my liberal arts undergraduate studies, which turned out to be exactly what I needed in exploring my voice and perspective as an artist. And now I’m finally getting the opportunity to visually express my imaginations and experiences, which is great.
Do you feel that diversity is a reality in your chosen field?
I think there is diversity in my chosen field of film. I really do think there are many people of different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, as well as women filmmakers.
In the same breath, there is a lack of diversity in the pool of those who are well-known artists or those who get the opportunity to get their foot in the door as filmmakers.
This can be on account of many reasons including the concept of “it’s who you know,” because everyone isn’t fortunate enough to have the available resources or social capital to shine in film.
I won’t completely judge the film industry because I’m not fully immersed in it yet, but I will say that I’ve met a lot of talented people in the field with diverse backgrounds.
So the diversity is there, it just seems to be a matter of the industry properly opening the door.
Where do you envision yourself five years from now?
I visualize myself behind the camera producing films that express my visions and voice, as well as speak to audiences. I want to continue learning my craft as a filmmaker, build a strong name for myself, and continually build meaningful relationships with my peers and mentors. Most importantly, I envision myself as happy and enjoying life.
What is your fantasy film project? Who would you work with on this fantasy project?
I would love to make a narrative fiction film that incorporates elements of African culture and aesthetics. I see myself as building a strong voice in that respect, and would have a wonderful opportunity to share really rich stories that look beautiful.
It’s very hard to name whom I would want to work with because there are so many amazing talents, but I would love to work with cinematographer John Toll. There is a real poetry in his visual work that enhances the experience of storytelling, something I truly aim to accomplish as a filmmaker.
What words of advice do you have for future filmmakers?
There are a million reasons why other people or even yourself list why filmmaking is a terrible idea. It sounds more glamorous than it probably is, especially with the workload and financial sacrifices. But I’ve learned every choice is a sacrifice including ignoring an interest. You must never sacrifice your heart’s passion for pragmatism because you only get one life and it ought to be pleasurable, challenging, and above all truly fulfilling.
If that means choosing film, stop everything else, pursue film, and be open to the process of engaging in film on every level of work in the industry! The only person who can stop you from doing what you want is you — a lesson I quickly learned.
To learn more about the Fulbright mtvU scholarship, visit their website: us.fulbrightonline.org.