I’m Nicole Schafer. I’m a documentary filmmaker based in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands.

1. Tell us about yourself – who are you and what do you do?

I’ve just released my first feature documentary “Buddha in Africa”, that follows a Malawian teenager in a Chinese Buddhist orphanage, caught between his African roots and Chinese upbringing. I came across this story while I was living and working in Malawi, producing video features for a magazine programme produced by Reuters called “Africa Journal”. The type of documentary work I have done has involved me having to multi-task on small (or no!) budgets and as such I have learnt to produce, direct, shoot and edit my own stories. This is how I created the pilot for this documentary, which I used to raise the funds to make the film.

I ended up working pretty much single-handedly for several years up until the rough-cut stage. At this point I was able to secure the interest of a Swedish producer who came on-board as a co-producer to support the final stages of post-production. This enabled me to work with two very good international editors who refined the story and turned our rough-cut into a film. The entire process took much longer than initially anticipated. Approximately eight years from concept to completion!

Buddha in Africa

2. What are you currently up to? Are there any exciting projects ongoing?

We had our World Premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary festival in April/May. The film was selected as the Opening Night feature for the Encounters Documentary Festival in June and just won Best South African documentary at the Durban International Film Festival. The film will be traveling to various local and international festivals for the coming months. We have also sold the film to several international broadcasters.

Buddha in Africa: Enock and the coach

3. What’s your best project/work to date?

I am not as productive as I should be, so for now “Buddha” is my best work to date. But I know I have so much more to learn. Its time to get back into the field…!

4. Who or what inspires you?

I find inspiration from looking at the world through a lens camera. I love being able to immerse myself in the lives of other people and cultures and to be challenged by them. I love the creativity of the documentary, the challenge of working with reality and trying to turn it into some kind of fiction, without distorting the truth. I also find other documentary filmmakers inspiring. It is quite a unique existence and I always feel re-affirmed when talking to other filmmakers, that I am not alone!

Buddha in Africa: temple stairs

5. When you’re not working, what do you like to do?

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time recently being a mom and this pretty much takes up all my time when I’m not working. But I love spending my time with my family outdoors, in nature or in the garden just mucking about.

6. Finally, what tips or advice could you give to other documentary creatives, just starting out or to the more experienced creatives needing a bit of encouragement?

It’s a process, build your network, practice your craft and just keep going.

View the Buddha in Africa trailer here: https://youtu.be/HbU__R_G_mM