We Are Together (Thina Simunye) is an award-winning documentary about the children of Agape Orphanage, in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. It is the first film by a 25-year-old director from Britain who says he scraped together the money to shoot the film over a three-year period. VOA's Carolyn Weaver has more.
Most of the 30 children at the Agape Orphanage in a rural area of South Africa have lost their parents to AIDS. They sing in a choir to raise their spirits, and to raise money for the orphanage. Paul Taylor was on a break from film school in Britain when he volunteered at the orphanage in 2003.
"I spent three months there with the children without any intentions of making a film,” explains Taylor. “[I] met these incredible children who had an incredible choir, as well. And when I returned to England, I kind of was looking for an excuse to go back to spend more time with the children, and also thought it would be a great idea to make a film with them, because they have such incredible personalities, they'd be great ambassadors to tell a story like this."
"The number of orphans here is a big, big problem. It's increasing every day," says Zodwa Mqadi, a former AIDS counselor, in the documentary film. She founded Agape because she was touched by the worries of dying parents over who would care for their children.
Like the other children in the documentary, Slindile Moya calls her "Grandma." "I didn't know her,” she says. “I heard about her when my mother passed away, and my sisters didn't have money to send us to school. So my father took us to that place and we met her."
Slindile is the main character in the documentary – and credited as co-writer with director Paul Taylor. She was nine years old when she and her four younger siblings went to Agape, where the older children joined the choir.
Music director Zwai Bala spoke to the filmmakers about what singing means to the children. In the film he says, "Music plays a very big part in the culture of this country. We South Africans sing before we sleep, sing before we eat, we sing when we're happy, we sing when we're celebrating, we sing when we're sad – all the time."
During the three years of filming We Are Together, Slindile Moya's older brother Sifiso also died of AIDS, because the family could not afford his drug treatment. Director Paul Taylor says he hopes his film will reach viewers around the world, and build support for policies to stem the tide of deaths from AIDS in poor countries.
"The reason we made the film was to engage people with these issues and what was happening in South Africa,” says the director. “But we knew the way to do that was to focus on this bunch of children, because people can have such an emotional connection with the children. They can make this issue much more engaging and real to people, because of their humanity. And we were so fortunate that we found an incredible bunch of children, and that the Moya family was so welcoming to us and really allowed us into their lives."
Slindile Moya wants to become a nurse, and says she will always sing, too. We Are Together recently won a special jury prize and the audience award at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. The $25,000 from the prize will go towards expanding the Agape Orphanage so that it can serve more children.