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A VERY DEEP JOY: NICK’S STORY

It’s time! We at Thislife Online have been collaborating with Manenberg Films for three years, and now we need answers! How did a London film editor called NICK LEAR end up founding a film company in an area that many associate with danger, dereliction and despair? Nick braved the other side of the camera and told his story to KAT FARQUHARSON

Seeing opportunity where others don’t: film editor Nick Lear with wife Cate and children Willow, Lily, Leo and baby Noelle  |  Photo: Ronelle de Villiers
Nick (45) was born and raised in England, educated at Radley College and Cambridge University, where he graduated with a masters in theoretical physics. An award-winning editor, he has worked for a variety of media outlets from the BBC and Sky to CNN and Channel 4, and his films have been shown at festivals from Cannes to Toronto. He is married to Cate, they have four children, and live in the Cape Town suburb of Claremont

I DABBLED IN FILM MAKING at university and knew that film editing was my passion but I had to get in the door first. I visited every film company in London I could find to drop off my CV, trying to get onto the bottom rung of the ladder as a runner.

After leaving Cambridge with a masters in theoretical physics, Nick Lear entered the film industry on the bottom rung. ‘I knew editing was my passion but I had to get in the door first,’  he says

As luck would have it, someone had just left a company and I got my chance. For the next 18 months I mostly made tea and learnt everything I could, waiting for my opportunity. I rose up the ladder to become a tape op, and eventually started getting editing work.

My career started to take off. Before too long I was doing really well, owned a nice flat and lived quite a privileged life. My name was getting out there and it felt good. I worked with some big names in the film world and earned trust. Amazing documentary projects were on the cards.

borderline atheist

But all along, I was feeling a pull to work with underprivileged people that I believe came from God. Growing up, I’d been a borderline atheist until my life changed at a school camp. Here, I heard stories from people who said their lives had been changed by God that were so compelling I put my faith in Jesus.

So, while still in the film industry, I started getting involved in a charity called The Besom that bridged the gap between churches and people in need.

It was there, in 2008, that I met Cate, the love of my life. She’d given up her degree to serve the poor, was hanging out with drug addicts, and wasn’t the least bit impressed with film. The first time I met her she said, ‘I hate TV.’  I said, ‘I work in TV!’

An exciting film career was unfolding but Nick was feeling a pull in a different direction. He started volunteering at a charity called The Besom, where he met Cate, soon to be the love of his life!

Eventually, after longer than I’d have liked, she said yes to a first date. After dinner, we spent the rest of the date talking to a homeless guy. I was both inspired and gutted, and spent the next day in tears. My career was going places, but I felt God calling me away.

Cate and I married in 2009 and went to work for four years at a Mozambican NGO called Iris Global, running a kitchen that fed 2 000 people a day.

Engaged: Nick with his parents, new fiancée Cate, and… a ring 🙂
Nick and Cate married then moved to an NGO in Mozambique, where for four years they ran a kitchen that fed 2 000 vulnerable people a day

Despite a challenging start (we needed to learn Portuguese and Makua, and the staff went on strike during our first week), it was an amazing time. The people were full of joy, and even though the unrelenting heat made things tough for this northern hemisphere couple, we learnt to be reliant on God. These lessons would be needed in the future because in the back of our minds, always, was Manenberg.

Lily, the Lears’ first child, was a distinct point of interest in Mozambique. Its people were ‘full of joy,’ says Nick

We’d heard about Manenberg through friends, Pete and Sarah Portal, who were doing work through a church there called Tree of Life that inspired and compelled us.  We absolutely loved the idea of living in the community you’re trying to serve.

Each time we went to Cape Town from Mozambique for one of our children to be born we visited the Portals, and our heart grew for their community.

lack of hope

As many will know, Manenberg is a township created by the apartheid government for ‘Cape Coloured’ families that it had forcibly removed from their homes for white people to move in. It was a dehumanising strategy that destroyed families and communities, and its legacy is lack of jobs and opportunities, lack of hope and the very real issues of gangsterism, drugs and violence

‘At the back of our minds, always, was Manenberg,’ says Nick. Manenberg was created by South Africa’s former apartheid government for ‘Cape Coloured’ families it had forcibly removed from their homes. The legacy of this strategy in this vulnerable community is lack of opportunities and hope, gangsterism, drugs and violence  |  Photo: Freddie Reed
After four years in Mozambique, Nick and Cate moved into Manenberg with their children. ‘It took a long time to come round to this idea and it was scary,’ says Nick
Cate with Sarah Portal, a South African who had moved several years previously from Cape Town’s suburbs to share life in Manenberg with the Tree of Life community (read her story)

Nonetheless, in 2016, after our season in Mozambique was up, we moved with our first two children, and Cate pregnant with our third, to be part of Manenberg’s Tree of Life community. It was scary and had taken a long time, particularly for Cate, to come round to the idea, partly because everyone in Cape Town we spoke to said, ‘Don’t go to Manenberg and 100% don’t live there, especially with young children!’

When we moved in, most of the community were incredibly welcoming to us, really loved and looked out for us. Cate launched Skatties, a crèche for vulnerable children, in our house, while I felt a call to use my film skills to show the other side of Manenberg, the side that involves joy, laughter, community and hope.

‘Most of the Manenberg community were incredibly welcoming to us, really loved and looked out for us,’ says Nick
Cate (second left) launched Skatties, a crèche for vulnerable children

So I started making films that told those stories and, as time went on, I felt a pull to pass on my skills to the people around me. In 2018, I founded Manenberg Films, a non-profit social enterprise. I prayed for support and not long after a huge answer to prayer came in the form of Freddie Reed.

Nick felt a pull to pass on his film skills to the people in his new community and founded Manenberg Films, a non-profit social enterprise
Nick prayed for support with Manenberg Films. ‘A huge answer to prayer came in the form of Freddie Reed,’ a director of photography from London, he says  |  Photo: Charlotte Simon

Freddie was a brilliant director of photography in London who’d felt a call to come to South Africa and contacted me after he arrived. Together, we started running intensive free ‘boot camps’ in Manenberg for aspiring film students. We got a lot of interest and to date we’ve trained around 70 students. The school lasts a week and we screen the students’ films at the end of it and share them on our social media. A recent film clearly resonated with people and had over 100 000 views.

Nick and Freddie launched a free film school for young people from Manenberg and other communities that lack opportunity
The film school is funded by the commercial side of Manenberg Films and runs an intensive, week-long ‘boot camp’
The students’ work is screened at the end of the week

We’re also able to employ some students on our commercial work, and to match them with other employers. A highlight was when our intern Aldridge, a student from our first school, was snapped up for an editing job. For someone like him, it was a life-changer to get full-time work. It brings security and meant he could provide for his partner and child. Tragically he passed away this year from a heart clot, which was a real shock to all of us.

Vinnie, a schoolboy who came to our film school and is part of the Tree of Life family, is another intern getting lots of experience working for us as a camera operator when he’s not at school, and we’ve been using him to film some videos for Thislife Online. He’s got a really bright future ahead of him.

Vinhardynli ‘Vinnie’ Scheepers, a graduate of Manenberg Film School, has been filming some videos for us here at Thislife Online. ‘He’s got a really bright future ahead of him,’ says Nick

 MANENBERG FILM SCHOOL: ‘IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT TECHNICAL STUFF,’ SAY THEIR STUDENTS. MEET THE TWO GUYS WHO FOUNDED IT, AND FIND OUT WHY

Ultimately, we’re looking for funding to help with the film school costs but we know that start-up non-profits like us usually find funding hard to access. So for now we use the profits from the business side of the company to pay for the training.

Covid paused the boot camps and internships for a while and meant we didn’t have much commercial income to fund the school, but we’re starting to pick up again.

Cate at the wedding of friends in Manenberg. The Lears lived there for over three years

Cate and I lived in Manenberg for three and a half years. I’m not sure with hindsight we knew how big a challenge it would be. Our house was broken into 18 times and once all my camera and computer equipment was stolen by local gangsters, leading to a day of visiting all the gang leaders with our friends Keeba and Dowayne to ask for it back, unfortunately with no luck! A young man got stabbed across the road from us and there was a machine-gun fight and hostage situation at our local supermarket. Both Cate and I ended up with post-traumatic stress.

tough call

In the end it was just too difficult. In 2019, while Freddie remained in our house in Manenberg, Cate and I made the tough call to move into the suburb of Claremont, which was also closer to the girls’ schools.

Moving away hasn’t interfered with the operation of Manenberg Films. My dream is still to see it help reclaim hope in Manenberg, for people to see opportunity in this community. Yes, it has challenges and problems, but it also has a lot of amazing people who want to see their community flourishing.

Ultimately, living in Manenberg with a young family proved ‘just too difficult,’ says Nick. His film partner Freddie stayed in Manenberg but Nick and Cate made the ‘tough call’ to move to the Cape Town suburb of Claremont  |  Photos: Ronelle de Villiers

I believe in a God who delights in bringing flourishing, and feel He’s gracious in letting me be part of His work to bring hope and light to the darkness. Despite all the things and the brokenness I’ve seen and experienced, I’ve never been tempted to blame Him for the poverty and injustice I witness. It doesn’t take me long to see how we as humanity have caused it, and that we need to be part of the work to put it right.

‘I believe in a God who delights in bringing flourishing,’ says Nick  |  Photo: Ronelle de Villiers

For me, life is about doing what God calls me to do. Not that I’ve ever heard an audible voice from Him, I believe He generally speaks to me in my gut. It kind of boils away until I do something about it! Sometimes I fight Him about things He pulls me towards, but once I do them I feel a burden’s been lifted off me.

Nick Lear: ‘I think we need to be part of the work to put poverty and injustice right’  |  Photo: Ronelle de Villiers

I think we were designed to know and follow God, and we’re never going to be truly happy unless we’re doing that. It was quite a big sacrifice to give up my film career in London but I was certain God had called me to do it. When I wake up feeling I’m doing what God has for me that day, I experience a very deep joy.’

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