Unearthed: “I’d like you to stop and think for a couple of seconds…”


Originally published in Urban Edge Magazine
Issue 2/ 29 September – 19 October 2011


CELEBRATING LOCAL TALENT: Profile ~ Jolynn Minnaar


I guess you’re never really prepared for the moment when you wake up on an airport floor in North Carolina – alone, lost and armed with nothing but a camera and a second-hand map of the US. Nor the moment when, despite warnings from the folk in Pennsylvania, you’re being trailed by a mysterious car while filming in rural Colorado. But, one day you realise that, what was once an inquisitive streak, has landed you on the wrong side of the road, 10 000 miles from home, trespassing property and trying to light water with Lion matches.

Hi. I’m Jolynn Minnaar but, mostly, I’m Jo. While pursuing the dream of independent filmmaking, trained in cinematography, I work in camera in the local film and photography industry. There is no date to the start of the love affair that has become my career – it could’ve been when my mom took me to the opera as a little girl, or my grandpa’s Argus camera. It could’ve been my dad’s LP collection or, perhaps it was “Bicycle Thief”. But somehow my eclectic upbringing saw me opting out of a future in medicine and rather, in the world of media – of art, photography, music and ultimately, of film.

In January 2011, between the manic season of commercials and life on film sets in Cape Town, I stumbled across an article about something called ‘fracking’. I soon realised it was no awkward typo but rather a term used to refer to hydraulic fracturing – a somewhat controversial method used in extracting natural gas from layers of shale rock deep below the earth’s surface. I learnt that the proposed plans to explore the Karoo and broader regions for gas had prompted a massive, polarized (and somewhat emotional) debate in the country and that a major lack of information and transparency had left all sides of the discussion wanting. I also learnt that this was certainly not unique to South Africa but rather a growing, global mudslinging issue – between economists and environmentalists; between fuel or gas industry and citizens; between governments and community movements.

Seeking to remedy this – a long, eventful and sleep-deprived story short, un•earthed was born – an independent documentary committed to uncovering the facts of shale gas development by emphasising thorough research and fair representation in order to produce a project that informs people, from all sides of the argument, and assists and stimulates the important discussions currently needed in the country. With the support of Zootee Productions and powered by a diverse crew of talented researchers and filmmakers, un•earthed soon gained massive momentum locally and was able to spend five weeks on an intense fact-finding itinerary in the states of Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York.

On returning from the United States, armed with fresh fine-tuned information and firsthand experience of the procedure of hydraulic fracturing, un•earthed is now in an advanced position to further its commitment to empower the citizens of South Africa –  whether residents in the Karoo, industry members or decision makers in Government – with the results of a thorough, impartial investigation.

The documentary is currently completing final key interviews in South Africa and caffeine driven post-production is in full swing. In line with the documentary’s original intentions, to enable everyday citizens to participate in productive discussions about the risks and benefits of possibly producing the country’s shale gas resources, the first round of distribution will take place in the Karoo and surrounding areas. For several weeks, screenings and Q&A sessions will be hosted in town halls, community centres and, I suspect, a couple of farm sheds. The second window of distribution will be via festival circuits and, thereafter, possible cinema or television release.

Looking ahead, global interest in un•earthed, stretching from Australia, Scotland and the US, has called for an international version after the initial South African cut has been released and distributed. There is also talk of un•earthed’s sequel and a collaborative project with foreign filmmakers. Either way, with or without these possibilities, suffice to say that the cameras wont collect too much dust –  its just the beginning of films or photographs that question, investigate and shed new light.

As a filmmaker, you never really expect to become an expert on thermogenic methane or volatile organic compounds, to be on the receiving end of the camera or microphone or to be called to address auditoriums on the matter. As an everyday 23 year old, you never really get to brace yourself for the enormous moment of introspection brought on by hours and hours of around the clock research and the replies to some uncomfortable questions you’d probably prefer unanswered.

Do you know where the electricity comes from that powers your house? Do you know where the fuel comes from that starts your car? 9 months ago, I, possibly like you, had but a faint idea. But today, after reading this paragraph, I’d like you to stop and think for a couple of a seconds. Think about your lifestyle, about your consumption. Are you okay with it? Are you living in such a way as to ensure you or your kids or their kids have a tomorrow? And, even more importantly, are you concerned or doing something about it? I’m have no history of hugging trees and I don’t think tie-dye looks that good on me.
I’m one of you…and I have stumbled across something. I’d like to tell you about it.