“I was never certain that I wanted to be a documentary filmmaker,” Jolynn Minaar smiled sheepishly. “‘Unearthed’ itself is a production I never really anticipated.”
Once she heard fracking was to make itself at home in her Karoo, Jolynn embarked on a journey to the United States in 2011 to explore the world of hydraulic fracturing. She was armed with a camera and some tough questions. But the film soon grew in stature. It now sits on an international stage and is being screened in countries across the world.
The first time I saw Jolynn was when she recently returned from prestigious Sheffield Documentary Film Festival where her film was bestowed the Green Award. At our second meeting she was sporting a black gym outfit and a cap in the Sea Point sunlight as she ran along the promenade.
This time she is clad in three-quarter pants, a pale collared top, comfortable kicks and a white knitted scarf. She looked snug in her corner of the office. She sprung up as we entered. “Can I get you tea or coffee or anything?” she took us into her stride, offering some South African hospitality. The taste of Afrikaans still lingers on her tongue.
“This environment is quite conducive for working,” I joke. Vibrant couches are languidly spread out in the open office area, bordered by a table-tennis table and a few randomly dispersed desks. Her office is separated from the play room, but the space is just as open. Her desk at the far left boasts boards with arbitrary photographs and pinned papers. A camera was plugged into the The sliding doors stretch to the ceiling framing a captivating view of Devil’s Peak.. A very conducive working environment indeed.
Jolynn is well versed in interviews, having spent nearly as much time in front of the camera as behind it. “I bet she gave you lots of good sound bites,” a student from her cinematography class at SAE institute jested. “She’s pretty cool.”
She is all about keeping it cool too. The office’s natural lighting helps to reduce their carbon footprint. She tries to communicate that it’s cool to care about your environment.
Jolynn paints a portrait of a young woman in the film industry, filled with compassion and drive to communicate the message of fracking to the people who would be affected by it.
“I always wanted to make it a film that I would take back to the Karoo.”
Fracking is a complex topic and film as a medium makes it easier to understand. The responses to ‘Unearthed’ were overwhelmingly positive. Jolynn believes that the film will leave a mark on the timeline so people in thirty to forty years will still draw value from its themes.
At first hesitant to call her project an environmental film, she breaks the pattern of traditional documentaries by placing weight on both the people and the environment. She believes that this is the reason her film is internationally recognized: the theme is transferrable and our Karoo is the case study.
There have been challenges along her way. She recalls that many officials within the oil and gas industry have doubted her four year long experience and research in the field.
“People said I was too young, too female, too white.
It is clear to see why Jolynn earned Glamour magazine’s Woman of the Year Award in 2014. Her commitment to the truth and the Karoo is unwavering. Her approachable and honest character makes her modest about her role within the global arena of fracking. “I don’t claim to be an expert; I just quote scientists and people I’ve been to. I am merely a messenger.”
She continues to expand on the function of journalists within society:
“They often forget their role in the story. It’s not about you. It’s about finding the truth and portraying it in a way that makes sense to people.”
Delving deeper into the journey beyond the film, Jolynn said that it was a difficult process of self-discovery. “Making the film was tough because you need conviction”. She had to learn to rely on herself to be capable and well informed on the topic. High value is placed on her research and studies to assert her position and say, “Cool, I can do another speech”.
At the end of the interview she introduced me to her best friend; the Canon Mark 2 which she used to shoot footage for ‘Unearthed’. The camera was handled so naturally it was like an extension of her.
Both Jolynn and ‘Unearthed’ leave a positive imprint on people’s lives. “People are moved. They email us saying they signed a petition. Some email to say ‘You’ve inspired me to finish my book’!”
Still fully committed to ‘Unearthed’, she directs commercials on the side. “I have to make a living somehow,” Jolynn teases. It has taken her a while to come back down to earth after “four years of being lost”.
There is more on the horizon than just environmental documentaries for Jolynn, although she has been requested to make films on climate change and nuclear power in South Africa. “I am more than that. I am fascinated by the humanities and social fabric of South Africa.”
As a journalist, it is important to be true to yourself, she shares. “Never make a film or write a story if you are not honest with where you are in your life.”