THE SKY IN HER EYES 00:11:32
Children (7 to 11 year-olds),
youth and adults
Orphans and HIV
Stigmatisation and discrimination
Set in rural KwaZulu Natal, this poignant short film shows a young girl struggling to cope with her grief and confusion after losing her mother to AIDS. When a boy allows her to attach a picture she has drawn of her mother to his kite, this act of friendship and the shared joy of flying a kite together, makes the girl smile again.
Questions For Discussion
- What is this film about?
- What are the problems these children face?
- Whose responsibility is it to take care of orphans?
- How can we be supportive?
Shot near Ixopo in rural Kwazulu Natal on 16mm, this poignant short film shows a young girl who loses her mother to AIDS and how she struggles to cope with her grief and confusion. It depicts her alienation from the community and how a simple act of compassion can make her smile again.
After the opening scene of a blue sky and fluffy clouds, we see a woman in a white skirt with bright red flowers approaching her hut. It is a poor homestead. She has a yellow water can on her head and a baby on her back. Her seven year old daughter sings along happily as she pulls on the red sash of her mother’s skirt.
But the next morning the young child is bathing the sweating face of her sick mother, who is clearly dying. We see the young girl at her mother’s funeral fingering the same red sash. Back in the hut she draws a picture of her mother in the flowery skirt. She doesn’t forget to draw in the red sash. She then carefully places the picture and the sash in a tin, which she stores in a safe place.
The young girl walks with the yellow can across the high, rolling hills to fetch water from the river. Other children and adults on the path seem to avoid her and we get a sense of her being excluded and rejected by her community. It seems as if the children are mocking her as they skip past, singing and pulling faces.
At the river she stares into the water. She sees her mother’s face in the reflection. A boy in a red T-shirt throws a stone, which breaks up the image. He runs away.
As she goes back to the village, she sees the same boy flying his kite. She stares up at the kite in the sky. When the kite falls to the ground the two children exchange a look. He doesn’t mock her or chase her away.
Back at the hut, she takes out the red sash and the picture of her mother. She fastens the sash to her picture with a safety pin and runs back to the boy in the field. He fixes the picture inside the kite and she jumps up and down with pleasure as the kite takes off. After it falls to the ground, they sit companionably together looking over a cliff edge. Then he teaches her how to do it and she flies the kite herself. The frame freezes on her smiling face as she intently watches the kite flying free in the sky.
The film’s soundtrack is an original composition featuring a talented vocalist who sings a consoling and uplifting song, accompanied by traditional African instruments. “When I’m no more here,” she tells her child, “Look up to the sky – the sky that gave birth to the sun, the moon and the stars.”
Filmography of Ouida Smit
- We Care, Vuleka Productions / SABC Education, 2001 (20 part children’s series on HIV/AIDS awareness)
- Tube, Delapse / SABC, 2000-2001
- Chaya and Nissim: short film, Flux, 1999
- Inside Out, AME, 1998
- In Other Words: SABC Education (13 part series), 1998
- Fourtelling the Past, DACST, 1997
- 360o, 10 min short film, 1997
Filmography of Vuleka Productions
- We Care, SABC Education, 2001 (20 part children’s series on HIV/AIDS awareness)
- Adventures at the Waterhole, SABC Education, 2001, finalist for Japan Prize (26 episode children’s series communicating environmental issues)
- Beyond the Tar Road: Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa, 2000 (video documentary)
- Khululeka, scriptwriters for AME-Penguin / SABC Education TV sitcom, 1998 – 2000, winner of Avanti Award for Best Script in 1999
- Takalani Sesame (radio), South Africa co-production partner for children’s radio series co-sponsored by Department of Education . SABC Education, USAID and Sesame Workshop (USA), winner of First Prize for Radio in 9th URTNA Screen, Radio and Television Programme competition
This short film is unique in the STEPS collection for two reasons: it is a drama rather than a documentary, and it was shot on 16 mm film and not on video.
The film was shot in the hills and valleys of KwaZulu-Natal, using actors and extras from the rural community of Ixobho. This extraordinarily beautiful location is memorably described by South African author Alan Paton in the opening paragraph of his classic work, Cry the Beloved Country:
There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it… If there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa.
The welcoming attitude of the local community to our crew was truly amazing. People let us shoot in their huts and their fields; they loaned us props – including their animals! Given the lack of infrastructure in this poor and inaccessible area, the film could not have been made if it had not been for the incredible support of the local school, the tribal authorities, as well as the nearby Buddhist Retreat Centre, which kindly accommodated our crew.
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the making of this film was the excellent performance of our untrained actors. The little Zulu-speaking girl who played the lead had never acted before, yet she and the other actors handled the demands of the shoot in a way that was beyond our expectations.
This film challenges negative attitudes and the damaging stigma that can further wound children who are dealing with the death of loved ones. The film makes a contribution in helping children to cope with grief, dying and death, and to validate the uniqueness and worth of children when their family members are ill or dying.
This short film is groundbreaking in its own way, as it reaches out, from a child’s point of view, to the huge numbers of desperately poor young children who have been orphaned, and then shouldered with the responsibility of caring for siblings and running a household. Seeing these young survivors who struggle to carry on can bring understanding of their plight, as part of a southern African orphan generation who need and deserve help from us all.
The film’s focus is on the unfolding tragedy of the estimated 26-million African children who will lose parents to AIDS by 2010. Our story of a child who has lost a parent due to HIV/AIDS will help the general target audience of children to reach out to orphaned and HIV positive children, empathising with them rather than displaying fear and rejection. The aim will also be to impact in a positive way with the orphans and HIV positive children themselves, who will realise that they are not alone. A screening is already planned for the Ixobho community, and STEPS will be distributing the film even more widely, so the goal of reaching and affecting children and families throughout the region and the world will be realised.
- Ouida Smit
- Madoda Ncayiyana
- Sazi Dlamini
- Nina Mkhize
- Digital Technologies, Durban
- Nomvula Mthembu
- Kwanele Ndlovu