Gastropod girl Janna is pitch perfect

Gastropod girl Janna is pitch perfect

Things are moving a little quicker for a KwaZulu-Natal student of snails after she was picked to pitch for film funding.

First published by GroundUp

Thabiso Goba reports that a judging panel at the Conservation Symposium in the KZN Midlands last week awarded Jamila Janna an opportunity to pitch for film funding at next year’s prestigious Nature, Environment & Wildlife Filmmakers’ Congress (NEWF).

Janna won the award for a presentation on snails, titled: Diets of Tarebia granifera and Melanoides tuberculata found at St Lucia Estuary using stable isotopes.

The award opens the way for the University of KZN marine biology student to get assistance from international filmmakers in turning her presentation into a short documentary.

The 22-year-old has been studying invasive alien snails at St Lucia Estuary for her honours thesis.


“Receiving the award was a huge surprise,” said Janna. “I have attended the NEWF congress before and was really ecstatic to see what was happening: the integration of science and filmmaking.”

Janna will now get mentored at the 2019 NEWF Congress and compete against other aspiring filmmakers in the 2019 NEW Pitch Awards.

Mentors at 2018 Congress included National Geographic’s storytelling grants officer, Dustin Renwick, Peter Hamilton from Washington DC, who runs Documentary Television, and award-winning local filmaker, Yolanda Mogathusi.

Previous NEW Pitch Award winners include a group of youth from Ashdown and Imbali townships outside Pietermaritzburg.


Supported by the Endangered Wildlife Trust,  the young “EnviroChamps” work to protect the wetlands and rivers in the area.

“I met them at the 2017 World Wetlands Day,” said NEWF programme director, Noel Kok. “I did not expect youth in the townships to be the heroes of rivers running through the area. I was impressed and challenged them to come to NEWF and tell their story as part of the NEW Pitch competition. They won.”

“They still did not how to make a film, but because they now had money, they were able to get experienced filmmakers to help,” added Kok. The short documentary, The River Gives, has since won two environmental awards, including the SA Breweries Environmental Journalism Award.

2018 winners

The winners of the 2018 NEW Pitch Awards held earlier this year were:

  • Emily Cross for her proposed documentary pitch, Part of the Pack, about endangered African wild dog. Cross won a R50,000 production grant and the NEWF Audience Award.
  • Tessa Barlin for Becoming One – a story about Lucky Mahlatsi Rapitsi who empowers rural children through nature and wildlife photography. Barlin was also awarded a R50,000 production grant.
  • Londiwe Shange for “Toxic Relations” about life in and around the polluted Durban South’s industrial zone
  • Jessica Singh for her film “Epic Encounters” which looks at saving Africa’s deadliest snakes.

2018 NEW Pitch winners, from left to right: Jessica Singh, Londiwe Shange, Tessa Barlin and Emily Cross

All four winners are now receiving mentorship in producing their short documentaries.

The 2019 NEWF Congress will hosted from 16 to 18 July at the Durban Botanical Gardens.

“This is so exciting,” said Janna. “It’s going to require me to be creative. I cannot wait to embark on that journey.”

Janna is also a member of WildOceans ‘Only This Much’ campaign which is advocating for increased marine protection. She has welcomed the Department of Environmental Affairs’ recent  approval of an expanded network of 20 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). – Additional reporting, Fred Kockott / Roving Reporters

Delegates at last week’s Conservation Symposium toast the DEA’s decision to increase protection of the oceans. Photo: Thabiso Goba

Also read: Girl with the wild dog tattoo


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