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Movie uncovers South Africa's underground youth culture

By Matthew Knight for CNN
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Stocktown X: South Africa (trailer)
  • New documentary showcases the sights and sounds of South Africa's youth scene
  • Stocktown X: South Africa interviews Cape Town and Johannesburg's young creatives
  • Filmmakers want to reveal the thriving urban culture away from media stereotypes

(CNN) -- Arcade game-inspired fashionistas mixing with heavy metal bands grinding out tunes on street corners sounds like a scene you might find in New York's trendier locales.

But this is South Africa -- a country with a young population and a thriving underground youth culture.

Last year, Swedish filmmakers Teddy Goitom and Benjamin Taft traveled to Cape Town and Johannesburg in search of a different scene, one which steered clear of the "media stereotypes of violence, AIDS and safaris."

The result is "Stocktown X: South Africa," an uplifting and colorful 30-minute documentary which gives a snapshot of the exciting youth scene in some of Cape Town and Johannesburg's poorest districts.

Here, you'll find artists and designers, musicians and photographers, all making their mark on the community and beyond, fashioning an identity for themselves through the things they create, says Goitom.

"I hope this film is an eye-opener to the stuff happening here, despite media reports of what is going on," Goitom said.

The youth of South Africa -- irrespective of their backgrounds and cultural differences -- are starting to take awareness in what's happening in the world.
--Kemi Mngomezulu, Smarteez fashion collective

He and Taft meet heavy-metal band Ree-Burth who play sessions to small, but highly appreciative crowds from a backyard in Pimville, Soweto, and Gazelle, an electro-pop band from Cape Town.

Next, they drop in on the creators of fashion brand 2Bop, which designs street-wear inspired by 1980s arcade games such as Nintendo's "Street Fighter," before catching up with Kepi Mngomezulu, founder of the Soweto-based "Smarteez" fashion collective.

"Our styles vary from person to person depending on how we absorb what inspires us. So we have different fashion icons, but the style definitely has a common thread giving an overall Smarteez aesthetic," Mngomezulu said.

He says the street culture vibe is "very unpredictable and evolving rapidly" because people are realizing how self-expression can be used "as a weapon to shoot your voice for the world to hear."

Smarteez, and other street culture movements, are giving voice to a new generation, Mngomezulu said.

"Day by day the youth of South Africa -- irrespective of their backgrounds and cultural differences -- are starting to take awareness in what's happening in the world," he said. "They are starting to take a stand by voicing their opinions literally, or by other means of expression."

Goitom agrees, saying that the people he met while filming were incredibly well-informed about the wider social and political world.

Stocktown X: South Africa is the latest in a series of documentaries in which Goitom and Taft have explored underground urban music scenes in Japan, Australia and Brazil and the United States.

He hopes this latest film, which last week premiered at the CinemAfrica film festival in Sweden will, in some small way, encourage young people outside Africa to look in on the continent's growing pool of creative talent.