FIRST INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR FRANCOIS VERSTER (with MAXIMUM EXPOSURE, 2008)

- How do you feel about documentary filmmaking in South Africa?

This is complicated thing to answer at the best of times…  Three or four years ago I would have said things are great: a large number of great documentaries came from the country between, say, 1999 and 2004, training initiatives such as Steps for the Future and Project Ten had yielded fruitful results, festivals such as Encounters and the Tri-Continental Film Festival were playing an amazing role in developing and promoting documentaries as a form.  The public broadcaster had clearly recognized the value and importance of documentary films in our current social context and was committed to developing documentary as a tool for nation building and exploring what it means to be South African, emerging filmmakers were being given substantial opportunities to shape their own voices, and so on.

At present I am a little more skeptical… documentary films now seem to be once again relegated to “training ground” status, with SABC budgets as tiny as before, developmental or training concerns seeming to override quality concerns, massive problems with broadcaster bureaucracy causing filmmakers to opt for easier income streams, radically increased control by commissioning editors (and, even more problematically, by governing boards), lack of dedicated documentary training, and Sithengi having all but folded.  Foreign channels are less interested in South African programming than before (which makes proper budgets more difficult to attain), and South Africa no longer meets the criteria of certain development institutions – our economy is perceived as strong enough to fund its own films, even if the latter is not really properly happening.  These factors have certainly shown in the comparative absence of good films over the past few years.

Overall, there is also still not much of a sense here of the radical possibility of documentary as a creative form, and most broadcast and training institutions are not, at least as far as I can see, doing much to change this.  I guess it is also a question of many of the better young filmmakers moving into fiction as opposed to documentary.

On the positive side, however, initiatives such as the recently established DFA and the Encounters producer training programme will hopefully have a positive impact in the longer term.  And there are of course always people doing amazing work –  Riaan Hendricks’ last film THE CITY THAT KILLS SOMALIANS, for example, is an astounding work of visual poetry that gets deeper to the “truth” than any more straightforward factual film I have seen on the same subject exactly because of the distinct and powerful presence of a creative filmmaker’s voice.

- How do you feel when people describe you as one of the best / most prolific documentary filmmakers in South Africa? Do you believe you have “the Midas touch” or does it all just come down to raw talent?

I would not really describe myself as “prolific”…!   I’ve only completed two “real” documentaries, one PSA and two TV pieces in the past five years. My films usually take a painfully long time to complete, partly because of their nature and content, partly because of ever-present funding problems and partly because I tend to take very long in the edit.  And as for Midas… does that not usually have to do with making money? Hardly any South African documentary filmmakers here manage to do that…   But I guess my films have done well in terms of festivals screenings, awards and broadcast exposure.

I like to think that I work hard, am patient, and do commit to long-term vision on my films. I try to choose good people who share the same goals to work with, both at producer and crew level and, within boundaries, I probably make substantial personal and financial compromises to get films done in the way that I feel they deserve. I come from a “good middle-class family” that nurtured an interest in art, music and literature, I had a good education, had the luxury to travel and to never have to live a hand-to-mouth existence, and so on – all these things help, of course.  When I was younger I always struggled to decide what to do with my life – I was ok at writing, ok at music, ok at photography (and good at academia, I suppose) but could never quite find the right avenue to commit to… and somehow documentary seemed to provide a situation where all these interests could be put to better combined use.  Apart from that I guess I am able to step outside myself in order to connect with film characters, to match emotional situations with framing or filming style, to be honest with material in the editing, and so on.  I also feel a strong drive – especially as a privileged and therefore historically “uninformed” South African – to understand the world I live in better, and also to somehow transform mundane or “realistic” experience into something more significant through filmmaking means – if you are genuinely interested in both learning and creating by making a film, this impulse will prevent you from selling either shooting or editing process short.

- What are some of the challenges that arise in documentary filmmaking?

Where shall I start… Finances, having to wait for years before getting funding commitments, needing to keep crew members happy when they are understandably not as flexible as you are on a film, trying to match your storytelling needs with the needs of the film characters, being responsive to these needs after the film is done, keeping faith in the project, being able to match the schedule or financial needs of your preferred work partners, changing themes and stories as the film develops, negotiating the requirements of commissioning editors, finding the right story in the edit, finding suitable sales agents, the list goes on…

-  What are some of the most fulfilling things about being a documentary filmmaker?

For myself, the most rewarding thing is that you are able – and allowed – to throw yourself into entirely new worlds, to experience things that you most likely would not have had access to otherwise in an emotionally very intimate way.  Making documentary films allows you to learn about other ways of being, of looking at things, and so on.  It sounds pretentious, but when you focus on a subject character long enough, you somehow “jump” into their worlds, connect with them, and barriers seem to fall apart in an almost frightening way.  You also sometimes have immense freedom when entering different worlds: because you are allowed into these worlds but are not really part of them, you can sometimes paradoxically access people and their situation more deeply than an insider would.

The way that reality is transformed either in the shoot or the edit is for me also something magical.  This works on aesthetic, emotional, thematic and even “spiritual” levels.  I always seem to find that I only understand my material once I am in the edit process – a question of being able to see how things really inter-relate, almost like in a Gestalt process, or what their “greater possibilities” are.

When one sees that the film process or final film has a positive impact on characters or on a situation that is of course fantastic – but I am a bit skeptical about the extent to which film interventions change things in the long run.

Being able to immerse yourself fully in a subject or situation and then to afterwards move towards something new (however related thematically or otherwise) also keeps life interesting – as another filmmaker put it, you tend to become a “mini-expert” on a variety of subjects.  And of course, it would be dishonest to claim that one does not at least at some level want the sense of achievement that comes with finishing a film or the appreciation that follows…

-  If you have a really good idea for a documentary, what is the best way to go about pitching it and who should you approach? Would you suggest to aspiring documentary filmmakers that they just go ahead and shoot it – ie shut up and shoot?

This entirely depends on the nature of the film – some films can (or even should) be shot by the filmmaker: either because of unique access, or urgency, or the need for crew continuity.  With THE MOTHERS’ HOUSE, for example, I was shooting for 16 months before we had any funding whatsoever, and many of the most important scenes in the film happened during this time.  If I had held back and waited for funding, I would not have had this material.  I had a car, a camera and sound gear, and only had to pay for mini-DV tapes and petrol.  With this film in particular it also made sense anyway that I shot it myself – it would not have been possible to get similarly intimate material with a larger crew or if I was working with another camera operator (who would not have been as flexible timewise as myself and would therefore have had to be replaced with other people from time to time).  If I count the number of shooting days or half-shooting days, it would also have been hugely expensive to work with someone else.  We only brought in a more experienced cameraperson for general environment shots (which could be filmed at any time) once the basic narrative material was all filmed.

But other films are different – if a film can be scripted to some extent (or if access to material is not limited by time) it may make sense to wait for funds to employ the best possible crew.  The problem of course is the chicken-and-egg scenario that seems to have become common with broadcasters: unless the topic of the film is highly saleable, commissioning editors at for example the IDFA Forum increasingly rely on extended promos or rough cuts before deciding on projects.  SEA POINT DAYS also got its first real funds only on the basis of rushes edited together.

I would say it is usually best for aspiring filmmakers to team up with good producer, and then to aim for a combined strategy of have some material to show in order to raise money and waiting for money to do things properly. The filming and sound recording skills of the filmmaker are factors to consider here – you don’t want to end up with fantastic material that is unusable because of bad sound, for example - so again, one should weigh filmmaker access and flexibility against technical or aesthetic goals.

- What impact do you think Sony’s launch of the first consumer video camcorder in 1980 had on documentary filmmaking around the world?

The impact has been massive in terms of more people having access to making films (or recording reality for whatever purpose) – academics speak about “democratization” of filmmaking.  Human rights activists have also managed to put small camcorders to effective use in recording atrocities around the world.

But the “camcorder revolution” also comes with its own problems: until better-quality DV cameras were available the picture and sound quality was not great, and ease of access clearly meant that a lot more bad footage wsa shot by people not trained to make films.  There are documentarians who argue that shooting on DV (or now HDV) tape costs as much as shooting on film: there is less focus on planning films before shooting, the amount of material shot is endlessly larger (which then massively extends the costly edit process), and much more work needs to be done to bring sound recording up to acceptable standards.  One thing that has definitely shifted is that the editor, especially where he or she needs to make sense from large masses of filmed material, assumes a far greater role in the storytelling (and in a sense, directing) process.

- Why isn’t South African in the Top Ten African countries who make the most documentaries? Is the major problem are funding and lack of finances?

I do not know the statistics but am very surprised by this… There are over a 100 TV slots for documentaries in South Africa per year, which I would have thought is higher even than in countries with strong film industries such as Nigeria, Senegal and Burkina Faso.  South Africa definitely does have the economic ability to sustain a powerful documentary industry – but perhaps there is not enough commitment yet.  Documentaries are still not seen as glamorous – they are the “meat and potatoes” rather than the “dessert” of filmmaking, and many filmmakers (and, it seems, many people at the SABC) seem to see documentary films as a step towards making fiction and not as an art form in its own right.  I used to get highly irritated when people would say “I am shooting this little doccie right now…”.  You also see this kind of attitude amongst Hollywood filmmakers – the trend over the past few years has been for big-name feature directors to have a “pet” documentary project – whether to gain social kudos or whether to do something “good” I am not sure.  While someone like Scorcese has made fantastic factual films, a film like Oliver Stone’s COMMANDANTE is for me absolutely atrocious, and breaks the most elementary documentary rules of respect, stylistic choices, and so on.

The things  mentioned in the answer to your first question are probably also relevant here.

- Documentaries attempt, in one way or another, to ‘document’ reality. What is your responsibility to depicting the truth as a director of a documentary?

There have been entire books written on this subject… but in short, I think it is a mistake to link “truth” and “reality”.  The Swiss filmmaker Peter Liechti had a good line on this: “The problem with documentaries is that the audience tends to take them as the truth – and that some directors do this too.” Werner Herzog speaks about “deeper, ecstatic truth” that cannot be accessed through verite filmmaking but that necessitates radical manipulation of reality.  Or, in another vein, Francois Truffaut apparently said something to the effect that the camera should only film that which the eye cannot see – meaning, of course, that the camera should be used to selectively (and creatively) interpret rather than represent reality.

Truth is a highly personal thing, and for me the words “integrity” or “authenticity” are probably more useful terms.  Documentary films are not meant to be objective – they are almost by definition a negotiation of subjectivity and reality as experienced.  Different documentary directors will make entirely different films about the same topic, and it is exactly the way in which the powerful tension between “representing” and “creating” is negotiated that gives documentary its unique quality as an overall form.

- Do you believe that original or ‘real’ characters are more important or necessary than fictitious characters, in other words, that people / audience can relate to a real person more easily than they can to a fictitious one like a superhero?

They probably relate to characters in different ways, even within fiction itself.  A superhero obviously presents a point  of idealism and aspiration that is maybe not as psychologically “accurate” as a more ordinary character with recognizable human flaws, and I am sure the emotional connection is different in each case.

In terms of documentary, directors (or funders) tend to go for exceptional characters (so as not to make a “boring” film), but because the psychological process of character association in a narrative documentary is exactly the same as in a fiction film, the director still has to build empathy and connection with the character and his or her quest.  The scope for suspension of disbelief allowed in fiction films does not apply in the same way here.  So characters – at least in what I would consider meaningful documentaries - have to be humanly accessible for the film to be effective.  Then, because chronological “reality” and emotion is less easy to control in documentary than in fiction, a documentary director usually does not have access to the same devices of building association and empathy as those used by a fiction filmmaker.  So in a sense, both the audience requirement and nature of documentary to a degree paradoxically work against easy association.

Yet on the other hand, good filmmaking (or luck) can largely overcome these problems – and more importantly there is at the end of the day still a sense with documentary that what one sees “really happened”… This is a difficult thing to describe or define, but I very much believe that the audience still has a different psychological experience when they know something “really” happened, that the camera was actually there to capture it…  Perhaps these are simply codes of reading the world that we have been taught by society (and theorists on the hyper-real will argue about how there is little difference in a world where “simulacra” reigns, and so on), but I do think the experience of documentary “reality” is different from that of fiction.  Emotionally the process may be the same, but at some other level there is a different kind of connection.  On a purely historical or political level, the audience also steps away from a documentary with a more immediate sense of urgency or, if not, with the idea that this is “their world” and not a fictitious creation displaying moral or thematic possibilities.  Even when a fiction film is based on real events, we tend to feel that more depth is somehow involved – a film like PAN’S LABYRINTH, in which I found the “real” (as opposed to fantasized) elements a bit over-the-top, nonetheless felt more important because it was based on the actual horrors of the Spanish Civil War.

I have had many arguments with colleagues about the difference between fiction and documentary.  One the one hand I completely buy the argument that there is in many cases no clear line of difference: someone like Herzog for example has on occasion actually scripted his characters’ interviews, and it does not bother one when seeing the film at all.  But perhaps it has in part to do with how expectations are psychologically set up - why, for example do we feel completely disappointed when we unexpectedly find out that certain scenes in a documentary were staged?  Yet it is not just a question of dishonest filmmaking or the audience contract being broken – there is something else at work that I cannot quite put a finger on.

- Would you agree with John Grierson’s definition of documentary filmmaking (from the 1930s) as “creative treatment of actuality”? How do you define documentary filmmaking?

Grierson’s definition is probably the most useful or broadly applicable one so far – which is probably why it is used so often…  All three words are relevent here: the treatment (interpretation) is creative (this is not photorealism) and is of actuality (something less pycholgogically variable than “reality”).  Of course this is all still vague – and documentary is also difficult to define because it is a very broad field.  Perhaps one could say it entails the coming together of art, politics and reality…  but of course this could apply to fiction films too, and the problem is again with the word “reality”…!  Or, then, perhaps the tension between reality and the way each filmmaker “uses” it, as described above, could be seen at least as one of the core characteristics of documentary.

- Often, while filming wildlife or things like insects etc, shots are filmed in studio where certain ecosystems or areas of nature are recreated so that the best possible angles / shots can be captured. Can you explain this in more detail, and do you feel that this is misrepresenting reality?

The filmmaker in such situations clearly wants the best shots, regardless of where they were taken, as long as the illusion of reality is kept up.  Many nature film purists would not approve of such a process, but as far as I know it is quite common.  I would wager a guess that in MARCH OF THE PENGUINS the “main characters” were not always the same penguins.  Is this cheating?  I don’t know – it is difficult to decide where to draw the line.  I suppose the only guideline is not, where the factual truth is significant, to actively misrepresent things or claim they are what they are not.  All films employ some degree of suspension or illusion of reality, particularly in the sense of time and space continuity created through editing.  Noone really cares if a cutaway response shot was not filmed at the exact moment that someone is speaking – as long as it does not feel acted for the camera.  If, for exampl, you e see a shot of someone in a crowd listening to an emotional speech, it would not matter if the chronology is not accurate – but seeing “noddies” that were clearly filmed post-fact in some TV magazine programmes do feel wrong.  Perhaps this is because in the former example, there is still a genuine emotional reaction at play – or perhaps it is just a question of good versus bad filmmaking…

I have no problems with changing the chronological order of documented events when building a narrative, as long as the pattern sticks to a broader truth that for me still has integrity and as long as no fake motivations or causes are thereby created.  A strange thing is that creating an “artifical” narrative sometimes paradoxically brings you closer to truth.

- How big a role does propaganda play in documentary filmmaking? Eg Bowling for Columbine, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth which is based on numerous falsehoods.

This is another huge issue… All filmmaking entails manipulation of sorts, and at base I think we tend to see propaganda as films of which the intentions do not agree with our own.  The line between point of view and propaganda is very thin.  Maybe again, the difference again relates to integrity of purpose, and lies between active or conscious misrepresentation on the one hand and admission of political orientation on the other.  A film such as SOY CUBA, the classic Russian “propaganda film” about the events leading up to the Cuban Revolution, clearly gives a very one-sided view of Cuban history, yet most socialist-minded people, myself included, feel it is a great piece of work that should be seen by all.  As far as I understand, both BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE and AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH gave factual information that was not correct – I guess if a film directly claims scientific or historical veracity it has a greater responsibility towards factual truth.  If it does not claim these things and admits to its own subjective point of view (which could also happen through purely artistic means) we tend to be more forgiving.  I like to think that my films allow the viewer to make up his or her own mind about the material – but obviously I am still controlling the broader framework within which this space or freedom exists.  In THE MOTHERS’ HOUSE, for example, the viewer could deal with seeing Valencia (the mother of the main character) acting in ways that without knowing her context would seem reprehensible: this happened exactly because we had built up enough empathy and understanding of her first.  Clearly this allows to my mind greater insight and closeness to “truth”.   But such a view is underlain by subjective humanist assumptions, which of course can be put on trial themselves.  On top of this a filmmaker also has a moral contract with film subjects – and their own needs (and the effects of the film on their lives) clearly need to be kept into account when trying to represent the “truth”.  So I am not quite sure how to answer this question… maybe best to go back to the idea of integrity of filmmaking purpose.

- “Funding for documentary film production remains elusive, and within the past decade the largest exhibition opportunities have emerged from within the broadcast market, making filmmakers beholden to the tastes and influences of the broadcasters who have become their largest funding source.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement, why?

In some ways documentary, at least on the international scene, has been through a golden age over the past ten or fifteen years – a lot more money was made available in Europe and the US, the industries of many developing countries grew radically, and various international coproduction mechanisms, pitching forums and training schemes were set up.  A lot of funding did not come from broadcast sources.  Yet there does seem to be indications that grant funders are more closely tied to broadcasters than before.  In Denmark, for example, the national Film Institute, which used to fund almost exclusively non-TV films, has begun to work much more closely with the broadcasters there; locally the NFVF has also entered into many co-funding initiatives with the SABC.  In South Africa itself, given the comparative decrease in international grant funding, I would say that the statement holds true to some extent – unless you are doing a large coproduction, chances are that your film will be exclusively funded by the SABC, which in turn has moved both to greater levels of editorial control and towards commissioning programmes along specifically defined themes or ideas.  I know that filmmakers in the UK complain about the dumbing-down of the BBC and Channel 4 documentary strands as result of competition from commerical channels.

There is a lot of talk about the revival of cinematic distribution for documentary, and the number of factual films making it onto the big screen (also in this country) is definitely higher.  Films like SUPERSIZE ME and those of Michael Moore have clearly shown that documentaries can make money too – many social documentary makers do not like these internationally distributed theatrical documentaries much, finding them a bit heavy-handed or too full of “ cheap tricks”.  But clearly there is a market, and clearly these films do at times raise important debates.

- What is your advice to aspiring documentary filmmakers? What should they know that they probably won’t learn at school?

Making films may be a lot harder than expected… financially, emotionally, and in many other ways.  But the rewards are (eventually!) worth it. Maybe also that the thing that will keep one going with making films in the long run is following one’s heart rather than finances, and that a happy medium is probably going to be unlikely…!

SECOND INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR FRANCOIS VERSTER (IN AFRIKAANS, with Sanet Myburgh, 2008)

- Wat is jou idees omtrent wit/swart mandaat in Suid-Afrika?

Dit is ‘n baie groot kwessie siende die geskiedenis van representasie in die land - en ek het al baie baie kritiek en vrae hierondom gehad.  In die “laaste analise” is my opinie dat mense films moet maak oor die onderwerpe wat hul interessant is - maar dat dit uiters belangrik is om op elke stadium dieselfde vrae te vra: hoekom die film? hoekom die filmmaker?  wat is die magsverhouding hier en hoe beinvloed dit dinge? wat is die verantwoordelikheid teenoor onderwerpspersone?  wat ondersoek die film regtig in ‘n diepere sin?  hoeveel verstaan jy regtig, en hoe kan jy beter verstaan? Basiese orienteringspunt moet wees dat jy nie beter weet nie, en dat jy nooit dinge volledig gaan snap of reg interpreteer nie, en dat jy daarvoor so har moontlik moet probeer om oop en eerlik en self-ondervragend deurentyd moet wees (van beplanning tot redigering).

Ander kwessie is dan ook die wanbalans in terme van finansiele toegang tot die moontlikheid van films maak in SA - mens moet ook die gees van regstelling in oog hou.  As daar bv ‘n publike call vir voorstelle is oor ‘n spesifieke onderwerp, sou dit dalk meer sin maak om voorkeur te gee aan histories onderbevoordeelde filmmakers.  Maar dit hang baie af van die tipe projek wat mens doen - ek sou se hoe meer persoonlik jy “geinvesteer” in ‘n projek is, hoe belangriker is dit dat jy dit self doen.

- Wat is jou gevoelens oor die feit dat films wat meer onafhanklik en kreatief is en sukkel om geld te kry?

Dis dieselfde oor die hele wereld.  Op ‘n snaakse manier was dit amper makliker vir jong of beginner-filmmakers om films in SA te maak as elders in die wereld (bv. in Engeland is dit ‘n lang proses om tot op regie-vlak te kom - ‘n hierargie waardeur mens moet hoer bou ens) - SABC het relatief ongewone aantal geleenthede vir eerste-keer filmmakers (ook omdat dokumenter formeel as “opleidingsvorm” aangewys is). Dieselfde het - ten minste vir ‘n klompie jaar tussen 2000 en meer onlangs - gegaan vir uitdrukkingsvryheid  - projekte soos STEPS FOR THE FUTURE en PROJECT TEN het juis probeer om die regisseurs te help om hul eie stem te vind, uitdrukking aan hul eie idees en vorms te gee.

Dit sou voorkom asof hierdie proses minder sigbaar is nou - SABC opdraggewende redigeerders asook mense by die NFVF is nou baie meer gerig op meer vaste “reekse” met temas ens, asook op meer spesifieke formules oor hoe om dinge te doen.  Dus lyk dit asof daar meer kontrole is oor die films wat gekies word (wat dan miskien ook sin maak as filmmakers hul eerste of tweede film maak?).

Ek self het nie regtig probleme nog gehad nie - maar dit word wel moeiliker om televisie-bevondsing vir meer kreatiewe projekte te kry - of dan vir projekte wat nie sigbaar in die “nasionale projek” inpas nie (op die SABC se opdraggewings-webwerf - ten minste op ‘n vorige weergawe - word dit byvoorbeeld uitgespel dat films die doeleindes van NEPAD, die African Renaissance ens behoort te volg).

In die algemeen is films wat kanse vat baie moeliker om te bevonds - veral as hul nie of sterk en sigbare (of populere) hooftemas het of ‘n sterk storielyn het nie.  SEA POINT DAYS is vier keer afgekeur deur die SABC (alhowel die NFVF redelik vroeg aan boord gekom het) - maar nou dat dit klaar is en wel suksesse behaal (en miskien sin maak) is daar wel belangstelling van SABC se kant af.  Dit is seker ‘n abstrakte en nie-onmiddelik-snapbare projek nie - om regverdig te wees het ons ook baie gesukkel om die bestaande bevondsing te kry (uiteindelik vanaf Amerika, Holland en Switserland).

Daar is sekere vondse wat wel kreatiewe werk probeer ontwikkel en ondersteun - maar die bedrae is gewoonlik minder.  Dit is ‘n keuse wat mens maak.  Dokumentere het ook baie keer ‘n paradoksale verhouding met geld - die feit dat mens nie geld gekry het nie lei baie maal tot ‘n beter film (solank mens dan later genoeg het om ordentlik klaar te maak).  Byvoorbeeld, as ons wel by PROJECT TEN ingekom het met THE MOTHERS’ HOUSE (waaroor ek baie teleurgesteld was toe dit nie gebeur het nie) sou ons ‘n een uur-lange film gehad het wat baie gouer klaargeskiet sou gewees het (en dus baie van die meer belangrike gebeure gemis het) en ook nie die spasie gehad het om op ons eie manier die redigeringsproses af te handel nie.

Die probleem met onafhanklike meer kreatiewe films is natuurlik ook dat mens nie kan beplan op dieselfde manier nie (dinge gebeur, die redigering draai anders uit ens ens) - dus het mens ‘n baie groter mate van finansiele aanspasbaarheid nodig.

- Hoekom maak jy as Bloemfontein Afrikaner die tipe films wat jy maak? Dra jy ‘n skuldgevoel rond, of wil jy ‘n “statement” maak met die films, of wil jy eerder vir mense ‘n blik gee op ‘n sy van die lewe in SA waarvan die meeste blankes onbewus is?

Dit is baie meer ‘n kwessie oor my eie belangstelling - dokumenter-maak is ‘n kragtige en direkte manier om op ‘n interpersoonlike, emosionele, feitlike manier te leer oor mens se eie wereld, en in Suid-Afrika spesifiek oor dinge wat mens wetlik verbied was om te leer keen tot vyftien jaar gelede.  Ek sou se ek het meer oor Suid-Afrika geleer deur middel van films maak as op enige ander manier.  Dit stel jou in staat om te konnekteer, om op menslike vlak deel te wees van dinge wat jy andersins dalk geen verstand van sou gehad het nie.  Alle dokumentere moet ‘n balans handel tussen kommunikasie en ondersoek - die films wat vir my meer interessant is en sin maak neig na laasgenoemde - en vir my gebeur hierdie nie net beide in die produksie en redigeringsprosesse nie, maar ook in die ontvangsproses van die film.  Veral in SA, waar mense mekaar nog nie verstaan nie, is dit baie belangrik om oop te wees, en nie van ieder kant af te maak asof mens wel die antwoorde het nie.

Dit is ook nie bloot ‘n kwessie van blankes wat onbewus is nie - jy het middelklas swartmense wat ook nie sekere dinge omtrent arm mense ken of noodwendig verstaan nie - en jy het ook arm mense wat nie sekere dinge omtrent middelklas mense ken of verstaan nie, ensovoorts.

Ek dink nie ek maak films uit skuldgevoel nie - dit sou in daardie geval meer sin maak om films oor wit atrositeite te maak, of oor huidige klasse-bevoordeling ens.  Maar skuld is noodwendig daar op ‘n vlak - of volgens my behoort dit daar te wees vir middelklas mense, veral as hul “wit” is - die punt is dat mens dit moet inspan op doelgerigte of bruikbare of interessante maniere.

- Is dit belangrik om “lowly” mense wat almal eerder nie op straat sou wou hê nie lewendig te maak en menswaardig te laat vertoon?

Dit was seker deels die doel van PAVEMENT ARISTOCRATS.  Maar iemand soos Aubrey in SEA POINT DAYS is amper ‘n direkte uitbeelding van die “onbesproke” in die nuwe SA: iemand wie se situasie die direkte uitkoms van Apartheid is maar wie ook nou glad nie enige plek in die nuwe bedeling het nie.

Wanneer mens iemand op die regte manier en met genoeg empatie verfilm is dit asof jy vir ‘n rukkie in hul vel inspring - dis nogal skrikwekkend hoe vinnig dit kan gebeur.  Dis amper of jy op daardie tydstip deel is van hulle, of deel van hul wese word, of miskien “lief is” vir hulle - natuurlik is deel hiervan seker projeksie, maar daar is tog ‘n brug wat mens oorspring en wat dan ‘n tyd neem om vanaf terug te kom.  Dus op daardie manier is dokumenter-maak ‘n vorm van relatief suiwer konneksie.  Dis ook nie bloot soos ‘n pasient en ‘n sielkundige terapeut nie - dis nie asof die karakter noodwendig doelgerig kom met ‘n probleem om op te los nie; die weergee van innerlike kennis of informasie werk op ‘n ander manier.

- Hoe hanteer jy teleurstellings soos Miché van THE MOTHERS’ HOUSE wat na als lyk of sy teruggeval het in die lewe waarvan sy wou losbreek?

Die punt hier is seker dat ‘n film soos TMH ‘n “intervensie” is - en wat ek geleer het is dat sosiale en sielkunding probleme eindeloos meer verknog en verreikend is as wat ek/ons miskien gedink het (die film het wel groot veranderinge vir beide Miche en Valencia teweeggebring, maar ons het nie gereken op hoe diepere dinge op ‘n sekondere vlak - en miskien deels direk agv die goeie ding wat die film gebring het - weer vorendag gekom en op ander maniere weer groot effek sou he nie) en dat daar limiete is tot die goeie dinge wat ‘n film kan bereik.

Ek begin ook meer en meer dink dat daar ‘n vlak is waarop alle dokumentere - of ten minste observationele dokumentere - ‘n intrinsieke morele “probleem” het. Ek haat baie films in hierdie lyn waar alles sterk gekontroleerd en beplan is (en ek dink hulle is noodwending baiemaal patronisered en/of oneerlik) - maar terselftertyd is daar iets “onkeurigs” in die manier hoe ‘n filmmaker kontrole het amper oor ‘n karakter se lewe.  Jy kan baie ver gaan om karakters deel te maak van die proses, om hulle opinies en insigte in ag te neem, om seker te maak hul is wel gelukkig met die eindproduk, verspreiding van die film ens.  Maar op ‘n sekere vlak is hul lewens “beknop” tot in ‘n eenmalige produk  - al weet ek Miche is gelukkig met  die film, dat dit haar baie goed gedoen het, ens ens voel dit nog op ‘n vlak ongemaklik vir my om by ‘n filmfees 10,000km weg te praat oor wat Miche met haar lewe doen, wat haar lewe op film “beteken” en so aan.  Dis moelik om te verduidelik…  Miskien ‘n kwessie van iemand se wese te “verklein” tot hierdie produk (al gee goeie films insigte oor mense wat hul heel moontlik self nie het nie) - mense verander ook oor tyd; hul keuses en wense mag dalk anders wees oor vyf jaar as nou, ensovoorts.

Ek weet nog nie mooi hoe om hieroor verder te dink nie - maar daar is wel amper iets “immoreel” oor dokumentere filmmaak, wat wel gekoppel is aan vrae rondom toegang tot die media ens. Wat ek wel sal se is dat die antwoord vir my nie te vinde is in “partisipere” films of films waar alles vooraf strak vasgestel of bepaal (en dus leweloos) word nie.  Die klassieke antropologiese-film metode, waar die filmmaker hom of haarself eindeloos “reference”, werk ook nie vir my nie.

Dit gaan eintlik goed met Miche nou - sy het Matriek herskryf, goed deurgekom, het werk, en studeer nou by UWK.

- Waaroor kommer jy die meeste m.b.t. SA en waarheen als gaan, hoe die mense is, ens., en wat is weer baie positief vir jou?

SA is op enige gegewe moment ‘n kombinasie van dinge wat baie sleg gaan en dinge wat baie goed gaan.  Rasisme, groeiende ekonomiese ongelykheid onder ‘n kaptilastiese demokratiese stelsel, die groeiende samekoms van besigheids- en regeringsbelange, ekologiese destruksie en dan die natuurlik amper onbegryplike vlakke van geweld en misdaad is alles dinge wat mens baie bekommer of kwaadmaak.  Maar daar is baie wat goedgaan: ons het nog steeds ‘n sterk raamwerk vir demokratiese institusies, kwessies rondom ras-gerigte en ander vorms van diskriminasie word openlik bespreek anders as in baie ander lande, mense meng wel en kom wel op sekere vlakke meer en meer oor die weg, op baie maniere is grassroots-demokrasie baie gesond (mens kan die hele Polokwane-gebeurtenis asook Mbeki se bedanking lees as ‘n positiewe implementasie van die beslissing van die meerderheid), die weer is goed, daar is entrepeneuriale moontlikhede,  dinge is aan die gebeur, daar is spasie om dinge te doen, ons lewe in interessante tye…

- Wil jy iets noem oor Afrikaanse dokumentêre, en of daar plek is daarvoor?

Dit maak nie vir my eintlik saak in watter taal dokumentere films gemaak word nie - die belangrike ding is dat die films eerlik kommunikeer, wat baiemaal beteken dat dit beter is om in beide filmmaker en karakters se mees gemaklike taal te werk.  Films wat in Afrikaans gemaak word sal wel ‘n lokale en internasionale gehoor vind as hul sterk genoeg is; ek dink nie dit maak sin om van “Afrikaanse dokumentere” as ‘n genre te praat nie, tensy dit te doen het met ‘n bygevoegde verteller-stem in Afrikaans om vir Afrikaanse kanale gepaketteer te word.

- Kan jy vertel van hoe jy ‘n lewe maak - moeilik, maklik -  en of SA die aangewese plek is om te woon as filmmaker?  Dis snaaks dat so baie van die bevondsingg van oorsee af is.

Ek voel ek wil hier bly - ek was onlangs verbasend bly om terug te wees na vier maande in New York - ek het daar vir amper die eerste keer in my lewe regtig heimwee gehad.  Miskien het dit te doen met ouer word?

Dis nie my plek om te oordeel te vel oor mense wat die land verlaat nie - mens weet nie watter probleme of traumas hulle deurgemaak het nie.  Maar ten minste vir nou maak dit persoonlik en professioneel sin om hier te bly - die films wat ek wil maak is meesal hier, my familie is meesal hier, en ek het besef mens het hegter bande met dinge uit mens se agtergrond as wat jy gewoonlik dink.  Ek voel ook op een of ander vlak verantwoordelikheid om hier te bly, iets positiefs te doen; ek weet nie of “om iets terug te gee” heeltemal eerlik is nie, maar iets in daardie lyn…

Ek dink ook nie Europa of Noord-Amerika gee noodwendig leiding op kulturele of intellektuele gebied nie.  Daar is daadwerklike nuwe dinge aan die gebeur in “suidelike lande” - filmgewys en andersins - en mens het amper die gevoel by filmfeeste partymaal dat die ryker lande uit idees uit is - dat daar geld is maar minder energie, minder substans.  Anders as met filmmakers uit “ontwikkelende lande” wat films wil maak elders in die wereld, vra niemand vrae as filmmakers uit ryker lande films in Afrika, Asie en so aan wil maak nie… dis eintlik ‘n bizarre situasie, wat te doen het met ‘n tipe van behoude internasionale patronisasie of selfs ‘n tipe kulturele neo-kolonialisme.  In die geheel voel ek dat Afrika-filmmakers byvoorbeeld baie meer kanse gegun moet word om hul eie stories te vertel as wat tans die geval is - by IDFA in November, byvoorbeeld, was daar meer as 40 films oor Afrika, waarvan slegs iets soos 4 deur Afrika-filmmakers gemaak is.  Dis nie noodwendig ‘n kwessie van mandaat nie - oftewel mandaat volgens etniese of nasionale groepering nie - maar meer een van finansiele vermoeens om films te kan maak.

’n Ander ding is ook dat dit baie moeilik is om observasionele films te maak in ‘n taal wat jy nie self praat nie - nog ‘n rede om in Suider-Afrika te bly.

Aan die ander kant is SA wel nog steeds afgesonderd op verskeie gebiede - so dit is goed om te kan wegkom van tyd tot tyd om blootstelling aan ander maniere van dinge doen te verkry.

- Die aard van ‘n dokumentêr is om mense op te voed - op watter manier wil jy opvoed - m.a.w. wat is die ding wat jou naaste aan jou hart lê wat jy die graagste sou wou oordra?

Ek dink nie ek stem saam met so ‘n definisie nie.  Meer ‘n kwessie van self ondersoek instel (soos bo genoem) en ook die gehoor die kans gee om dit te doen.  Natuurlik lei mens altyd die gehoor deur die proses van redigering - maar daar is ‘n manier waarop mens wel kykers die spasie kan gee om te voel wat hul wil voel, en om self hul gedagtes op te maak binne ‘n bepaalde raamwerk van die filmmaker se onderliggende stem.  Geen van my “regte” films het ‘n vertellerstem nie, en ek sou graag dink dat almal van hulle iets meer kompleks en meervlakkig oor die wereld kan se - mense het baiekeer teenoorgestelde ervarings van sekere elemente in die films.

In SEA POINT DAYS word hierdie proses verder gevoer - die film is so amper op die lyn tussen sterk-filmmakerstem en geen-filmmakerstem - direk gekoppel aan die tema en vrae wat die film vra.  Deels is dit: op watter maniere kan ‘n wit persoon praat oor Apartheid en die gevolge daarvan?  Wat is ‘n eerlike, verantwoordelike, progressiewe wit stem wat wel geskiedenis en huidige gevolge in ag neem sonder om oorboords jammeragtig te wees?  M.a.w. - waar is die plek waar ‘n wit filmmaker die “reg” het om te praat oor waar SA huidiglik staan?  Dus is die metode wat ek hier gevolg het deels om weg te skram van ieder en enige maklike interpretasie van rasse-, klasse-, godsdientige of ander kwessies, en om altyd na ‘n toneel te beweeg na iets wat dit of in ‘n ander lig stel of nuwe konneksies probeer maak.  Die film vermy deurentyds maklike uitwegte, of “antwoorde” wat al hoe meer deur  ‘n nuwe staande politieke ortodoksie vasbepaal word.  Die film kyk grootliks na die interseksie tussen persepsies van ras/”etnisiteit”, klas, geluk, hoop, nostalgie, die sin van behoort in ‘n plek, spasiepolitiek ens eerder as om vaste gevolgtrekkings oor enige van hierdie elemente te maak - die “los” (non-narratiewe) aard van die film is juis daar om die kyker se proses van self betekenis te vorm aan te help (of selfs te forseer dalk!).

Natuurlik is daar basiese dinge wat ek in glo of wat ek voel wat in al die films oorkom - ‘n tipe naiewe humanisme dalk, dat daar meer sosiale en ekonomiese gelykheid moet wees, dat geweld op alle vlakke bekamp moet word, dat mense ‘n soeke na metafisiese betekenis het en dat hierdie op gekompliseerde manier met ander lewenselemente saamgaan, ensovoorts.  Met SEA POINT DAYS is ek baie meer persoonlik betrokke as by vorige films (in die sin dat die vrae wat gevra word baie meer my eie is: oor wat wit-wees beteken, of die mense wat voordeel uit Apartheid geput het die reg het om nostalgies te wees, hoe ek moet staan teenoor bv ou wit tannies wat oulik, vol lewe, sjarmant is, maar dog grootliks hul lewensvoordeel uit Apartheidswetgewing geput het, hoe ek moet kyk na aan die een kant die te-maklike byeensetting van ras en klas en aan die ander kant die baie problematiese huidige opinie dat rasseverdeling nou bloot deur klasseverdeling vervang is, ens).

- Wat kan jy noem oor jou opvoeding, kinder/skooltyd, invloede,ens., aangesien hulle wil hoor wat maak jou wie jy is?

Ek kan seker se dat ek opgegroei het in (ten minste in konteks) ‘n middel-linkse familie met akademiese/kuns belangstellings in ‘n omgewing waar die tipe dinge nie veel waardeer was nie - my ouers was altyd op ‘n vlak ook “outsiders”, en geen van die kinders het ooit heeltemal sosiaal ingepas nie…!

Hoerskool-lewe was baie onplesierige tyd vir my - alles oor konformisme, redelose disipline, fisieke of sielkundige geweld, vrees eerder as respek en so aan.  Dit was die era van die Totale Aanslag, kadette, ensovoorts - die groot ding wat ek dalk saamgeneem het is ‘n gekombineerde vrees en wantroue vir outoriteit, dat die mense wat vir jou se wat om te doen (en jou kan straf as jy dit nie doen nie) nie noodwendig beter weet nie en nie noodwending goeie, regverdige of wyse mense is nie. Ek het seker self ook nie altyd dinge maklik gemaak nie - ek en ‘n vriend het byvoorbeeld ‘n geheime organisasie genaamd The Grey College Society of Reason gestig, manifeste gestuur aan onderwysers, en in badkamers opgeplak en so aan, en alles het toe uitgedraai op die veiligheidspolisie wat ons ouers se telefone ge-”bug” het.  Maar in retrospek, terwyl dit als ‘n speletjie op sekere maniere was, was meeste van die dinge waarvoor ons gestaan het polities verdedigbaar en selfs belangrik - van die elemente in ons manifes het selfs landswet geword na 1994.  Ek is nooit opgeroep vir nasionale diensplig nie - en deelname aan die GSCR is die enigste rede hiervoor waaraan ek kan dink.

Ervaringe op skool het seker op ‘n manier impak op hoekom ek dokumentere films wil maak - iets te doen met die oopheid, die idee dat enigiets moontlik is as mens eerlik en noulik die “werklikheid” dophou?  Die beste dokumentere films vir my bied baie maal radikale morele (of estetiese) moontlikhede.  Dokumentere film is ook intrinsiek polities in aard (dit maak nie saak of dit films is wat bewustelik politiiese aspekte probeer vermy nie) - jy maak ‘n publieke stelling oor die werklikheid, so jy interpreteer, selekteer, maak ‘n voorstelling op alle stadiums.

Op sekere vlakke (en ook in die huidige professionele SA filmwereld) voel ek altyd op ‘n manier soos ‘n alleenloper - of ten minste dat ek dinge op my eie moet uitsorteer, uit-figure, dat daar nie altyd leiding is om te volg nie (baie van die praktiese en ook storievertellingstrategiee op my vroeere films moes ek op my eie uitwerk, meet en pas, met baie foute ens totdat dit sin maak).  Deel hiervan is dat daar op ‘n manier min van ‘n “ouer generasie” van filmmakers van wie mens kon leer, juis omdat die films van die 70s en meer so die 80s so gerig op politieke kommunikasie was en nie op die kuns van filmmaak self nie.

Ek het ook soms die idee dat ek nie altyd verstaan word vir wat ek wil doen of se nie - dit voel baiemaal of mense eers my idees vir films waardeer as hul eers gemaak is…   Maar miskien is dit soms ‘n goeie ding ook - miskien kom jy so op ‘n helderder punt uit?

Aan die ander kant vind mens wel mense met wie jy kan en wil werk - langstaande vervaardigers-vennoot Neil Brandt het byvoorbeeld groot ondersteuning en vryheid gegee oor die jare; kameraman Brian Wengrofksy en ek het saam lang paaie deur moeilike projekte geloop, baie toewyding van mense af, ook b v klankmenger Stef Albertyn en redigeerder Peter Neal.  Mens vind ‘n span met wie mens graag wil werk.  Lucinda Englehart ook groot bygedra tot SEA POINT DAYS.

Daar is ook ‘n groeiende kultuur rondom kreatiewe film in SA, met meer en meer mense van wie ek voel ek inspirasie kry: filmmakers soos Riaan Hendricks, Carey Mackenzie en Khalo Matabane, filmprogrammeerder Nashen Moodley, ensovoorts.

As jy wil: ek voel ook dat my “lewensmaat” Shameela Seedat ook altyd groot insig en ondersteuning bied - iemand om idees mee te toets, strategiee uit te werk, ‘n intelligente insigvolle maar non-filmmaker oog op films te bied.  My pa is eintlik ook ‘n baie goeie kyker by rowwe snitte ens - selfde ding van nie soos ‘n filmmaker vir jou se wat hulle sou doen as dit hulle film is nie, maar eerder insigte op ‘n direkte kykersvlak gee.

- Ek sou ook wou weet of jy voel jy kry meer erkenning oorsee en waarom dit so is.

Dis moeilk om te oordeel - oorsese instansies stel baie keer meer belang in buitelandse filmmakers omdat hul buitelands is - deels ‘n patroniserende ding, deels omdat dit bloot meer interessant is om ‘n buitelandse storie van binne vertel te sien te word.  As ek bv ‘n Amerikaner was, sou ek tien ten een baie meer gesukkel het om geld daar te kry om films in SA te maak - daar is vondse soos ITVS se International Media Development Fund (wat die grootste deel van die begroting vir SEA POINT DAYS besorg het) of die Jan Vrijman Fund wat slegs buitelandse of ontwikkelende lande se films bevonds.

Maar daar is ook iets erens te doene met hoe SA “bemark” word…  Baie musikante (Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Johnny Clegg ens), kunstenaars ens het betreklik veel groter sukses oorsee; of soms het mense sukses oorsee voordat hul in SA aandag kry.  Dit het dalk te doene met spreek tot die kwessies van die dag… wat belangrik geag word, wat lekker voel, ens ens.  Mens kan myns insiens nie hiervolgens werk  nie - jy moet self besluit wat jy wil ondersoek of se, en so eerlik moontlik dit by jou karakters laat inpas. Ek sou dit moeilik vind om films te maak wat primer beplan word as finansieel-suksesvolle produkte met ‘n internasional gehoor, ens.

Wat ek wel kan se as dit daar ten minste huidiglik meer van ‘n ontwikkelde smaak vir onafhankilke of kreatiewe films in sekere oorsese lande is - ‘n kwessie van veel groter teater-gehore en veel meer geld (waarmee “sofistikasie” ontwikkel kan word), maar ook dat SA se filmkultuur nog baie jonk is, en dat ons films nog nie enige sterk identiteit het nie (en ook natuurlik dat 90% van die bevolking nie films in teaters kan bekostig nie…).  Soos bo gese, groei ons ook nog huidiglik uit ‘n tradisie van sterk politiese film, waar direkte weegee van informasie meer belangrik as kreatiewe elemente was.