Umfula – Echoes of the River

Umfula – Echoes of the River

A Virtual Reality (VR) film Umfula – Echoes of the River , created by VR Capture and directed by Ballito-based Telmo dos Reis has been touring communities along the Mfolozi River in KwaZulu-Natal as part of the filmmakers’ aim to raise awareness about environmental conservation of this historic waterway.

The film takes viewers on a virtual reality journey along the river, highlighting its beauty, ecological significance, and the threats it faces. It offers a highly sensory experience of life on the river. The screenings were recently held in various communities along the uMfolozi starting from its source in Vryheid northern KwaZulu-Natal and culminating at Isimangaliso Wetland Park including Nzamangamandla (Nongoma), Hlabisa, Somkhele, Sokhulu and St Lucia.

“We held these screenings over several weeks in February and March, with each community event serving as a platform for education, engagement, and dialogue about environmental conservation,” explains dos Reis. “Our goal was to raise awareness about environmental conservation while also creating job opportunities for local residents through the events. The project aimed to employ at least 33 people over this period, however, due to careful budgeting, they were able to employ around 60 people, providing some economic support to the communities.”

The screenings were made possible through a grant from PESP4 (Presidential Employment Stimulus Package) and the National Film and Video Foundation, and a collaborative effort between production company VR Capture and local community leaders. The community leaders who worked on the film represented the project as event hosts for their respective areas.

Producer Cheryl Tuckett from Light and Lion, reports that the screenings had a profound impact on the communities. “This was not only in terms of raising awareness of the challenges the river faces and the importance of clean freshwater but also in reigniting a pride in and ownership of their natural resources,” she says.  “The events were attended by a diverse audience, including local residents, community leaders, and environmental activists, who all came together to celebrate the beauty of the Mfolozi River and discuss ways to protect it.”

‘We did not just want to show the film in the communities we worked with during the making of it,” says dos Reis. ‘We wanted to use the opportunity to empower communities through fostering a sense of environmental stewardship. Through this project, we hope to inspire others to take action and protect our planet’s precious natural resources.”

Umfula – Echoes of the River by VR Capture was made with the support of the Kwa-Zulu Natal Film Commission, the National Film and Video Foundation, PESP4, and Light and Lion, providing development and funding for the production and community screenings of the film.