By Peter Feldman
A 36-minute art house film on Nepal, made by two creative Johannesburg men, has been widely acclaimed at festivals around the world.
Shukri Toefy (31) is an entrepreneur, strategist and opinion leader in business and brand communication. His business partner is Amr Singh (32), a noted film director, photographer andwriter,and together they combined their talent to produce ‘Unwritten: A Visual Journey of Nepal’.
Their inspiring journey has enjoyed critical acclaim in the international film category with Official Selections at the Roma Cinema Doc, Largo Film Awards and the 10th Annual Bali International Film Festival (BALINALE). It has also been victorious at the 2016 Amsterdam Film Festival and at the recent Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards.
‘Unwritten’ is a powerful cinematic account of The Rainmakers Journal founder, Shakri Toefy’s search for enlightenment in the Kathmandu Valley. Told through the pages of his journal, the film culminates in an introspective and emotional piece. It is an inspiring work which helped Teofy gain insight into his own life.
During his journey, which is directed by Amr Singh, Toefy meets with artisans, musicians, spiritualists, scholars, and survivors of a bygone era where the knowledge handed down from generation to generation was seen as a rite of passage. He searched for lessons which he could apply to his own life.
He returned home a more enlightened individual and hopes his film will engage viewers with its potent, spiritual message.
It all began while Toefy was studying law at the University of Cape Town, and paid off his student loans through his entrepreneurial skills. “We were studying law at UCT and we found innovative ways to pay off the loans. One was establishing a marketing and communications company. We started off in a simple way. We didn’t even have a car and would travel by trains to our meetings. This all really started from the bottom and when we began to make money we saw opportunities opening up for us.”
Out of this bright initiative, was born his present company, a creative agency, The Fort, in Rivonia, which has been going for a decade and deals with branding, marketing and communications. Toefy, who has been hailed in the industry for creating an in-sourcing model for film, media and creative services in South Africa, describes the company as “visual storytellers.”
The day I arrived to interview Toefy, the lobby was crowded with hopefuls who had come to audition for one of the company’s new projects.
People asked what his main inspiration was for having offices. He said it was to interact with people from all spheres. “I have always been interested in people, in different cultures and places. From a young age I started keeping a journal of what was happening in my life.”
Toefy and partner Singh hit on the idea of using film to document their love of travel and their experiences of different cultures and places.
They selected Nepal because of its ancient wisdom and because the country had always fascinated them. “It is a museum without walls,” is how Toefy visualises the country. Their aim in making the film was to create a “visual poem” to Nepal – and judging by audience reaction it has succeeded. “It is an honest account of what we experienced and we received co-operation from everybody involved. People who live in Nepal are very gracious and very spiritual and wise. It was a very sobering experience for us to be able to connect with people from the other part of the world.”
Said Toefy: “When it was completed I was worried, because I wasn’t sure how people would react and felt that maybe the film only made sense to me. For a long time we didn’t edit it. In essence we went there but didn’t get what we thought we were looking for. The fact of the matter is you can’t just go to a place and ask for take-away knowledge. That’s not how life works.
“I was in Hollywood a few weeks ago to receive an award. ‘Unwritten’ played to them and it connected and was visually beautiful. I am really happy it managed to connect with people, but I don’t think it will be everybody’s cup of tea.”
There will be cinema releases in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban from November through to December. Then it will be released to TV and other distribution channels. But for now it’s just played the festival circuit, which gives it credence and traction.