FILM | Director Speak where and at what time of one’s life one saw them… There are so many films that were so important at different times, offhand I would say Aguirre, The Wrath of God: the film even today transports me to places I cannot quite articulate, there are moments of complete filmic magic, and somehow the power of the film lies partly in its being a flawed work. Stalker: simply one of the great masterpieces of all time, one that locates the biggest metaphysical questions within the close-up textures of gritty reality. Belovy: this is a film that I can watch again and again, unpretentious, funny, tragic, with some of the most amazing observational scenes ever, astounding and at times mysterious camerawork, wonderful characters and perfect structure.
cois Franster Ver
WHICH FIVE FILM CHARACTERS WOULD YOU INVITE TO A DINNER PARTY? Thomas Fowler from The Quiet American; Billy from Easy Rider; the driver played by Mania Akbari in Kiarostami’s Ten; Mory from Mambety’s Touki Bouki; David Locke from Antonioni’s The Passenger.
Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker François Verster has won local and international awards and been broadcast around the world. His films have been used to teach and illustrate the fusion of creative documentary and social activism. WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW HAS THIS SHAPED YOU AS A DIRECTOR? I have a background in music, photography and literature studies – all of these have helped in some ways with directing documentary films. The amazing thing about documentary is that you can bring any knowledge, discipline, or content into it, come from any background, and it all still makes sense within the form. DESCRIBE THE MOMENT WHEN YOU DECIDED YOU WANTED TO BECOME A DIRECTOR? I was 19 when I first saw Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, The Wrath of God and The Enigma of Kasper Hauser and I thought wow, I never knew this is what one could do with film. I also never thought I would be a director until I started working on student and independent films in New York, first as a PA and then as a clapper-loader, and realised that the only way I am going to enjoy filmmaking is by calling the shots myself. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS A DIRECTOR? A bit of a lone operator, mostly out of financial necessity. I would say my strengths lie in conceptualising films and integrating varied material within them, in forming intimate observational relationships with people on camera, and in being open to how situations develop and change. Weaknesses would be resistance to definite planning, and willingness to keep working endlessly for no pay. 20 | SCREENAFRICA | May 2016
FUSING CREATIVITY AND SOCIAL ACTIVISM: Francois Verster
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? Usually by watching films – particularly if they move one’s sense of what is possible formally, emotionally or perhaps even morally – and from people who become the subjects of my films. DO YOU HAVE ANY MENTORS? The two people I learnt most about filmmaking from: Saskia Baron – a BBC director whom I worked with intensively on a film she made in South Africa, and Peter Neal – the master filmmaker who edited by first film Pavement Aristocrats and many of the subsequent ones such as A Lion’s Trail, The Mothers’ House and more. WHAT ARE YOUR PERSONAL CAREER MILESTONES? Completing my first film, winning an Emmy for A Lion’s Trail, starting to teach, premiering Sea Point Days at the Toronto IFF, and finishing The Dream of Shahrazad. WHICH PROJECTS ARE YOU CURRENTLY INVOLVED IN? Some short TV pieces (the day job), a documentary feature on JM Coetzee, and I am also working with my wife Shameela Seedat on a film she is directing on Thuli Madonsela. Cape Town filmmaker Simon Wood and I are embarking on another project that will be made public in the next while. WHAT ARE YOUR LEAST FAVOURITE PARTS OF THE JOB? The initial stages of editing, where all is just slog, fundraising, time and financial stress. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FUNNIEST MOMENT ON SET? While shooting A Lion’s Trail when Rian Malan’s boxer dog kept attacking the sound recordist’s mic fluffy. And while shooting Sea Point Days, when a young boy started competing with an old man sitting singing on the pavement and insisting he was better. WHAT ARE YOUR ALL-TIME THREE FAVOURITE FILMS AND WHY? This is an impossible call. Films have impact because of
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF FILM IN AFRICA LOOK LIKE TO YOU? Hugely positive… Africa’s film industry is steadily ‘internationalising’ – and so-called star African directors are no longer based in Western Europe or North America. Some examples of exciting things happening are the amazing Docubox East African documentary, based in Nairobi, the extensive rise of local industries in regions like Egypt, Nigeria, South Arica, Kenya, Burkina Faso, the local appearance of major TV and news channels, the explosion of more authororiented film in Egypt after the 2011 uprisings, and so on. IF YOU COULD SHOOT A FILM ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, WHERE WOULD IT BE? I would love to make a film in Egypt again. WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU AREN’T MAKING MOVIES? Obsessing about what I am not doing to get them made. Otherwise socialising, swimming, hanging with my wife and son, reading, surfing, watching low-brow TV series. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR PROUDEST MOMENT AS A DIRECTOR? Being told by a number of Egyptian activists that my film The Dream of Shahrazad came closest to capturing their own experience of events from 2011 to 2013 from all films they saw on the so-called Arab Spring. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE ONELINER FROM A FILM? “Shit… Trees on the road” from Walerian Borowczyk’s The Beast – I guess you have to hear it in context. WHAT SONGS MAKE UP YOUR MOST RECENT MUSIC PLAYLIST? I don’t really do playlists… but lately have been listening to Zim Ngqawana’s Vadzimu, to George Kazazian’s Monaga, and to Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (possibly a future film). IF YOU COULD PRODUCE AN AFRICAN VERSION OF A HOLLYWOOD CLASSIC, WHAT WOULD IT BE? The Sound of Music… or perhaps a revisionist version of Apocalypse Now. Compiled by Cera-Jane Catton