DRC any short cuts. Make sure the sound is right, make sure the picture is beautiful and the actors are good and understand the characters they play. We in Africa have so many great stories to tell; we are a story telling culture. So if we can present it properly, it should be able to sell anywhere. There are hundreds of festivals out there; you just have to choose them wisely. The world of distribution is changing rapidly: with the coming of new technologies, new opportunities are being created for African content. It’s getting cheaper to make high quality films and with the internet, it’s easier to get a film to market. But this is a business: making a film for free and asking actors and crew to work for free is not the way go. The better you pay people, the better quality the movie and the more chance you have to sell it.
BUILD-UP TO FEATURE: Selé M’poko
film. After writing the script, I used my savings to make a six-minute pilot. Then I went around to businesses in the Congo and sold product placement in the film. We got sponsorship from First Bank of Nigeria, Tigo Telecom, Dover Cosmetics and Primus, the local beer. There were also a couple of private investors who bought stock in the film. Have you made any sales of the film yet? If so, which distributors/ territories have
picked it up? What advice can you give to Africa’s filmmakers trying to find local and international markets for their films? Do you have any particular strategies for approaching international festivals and markets? SM: We have not sold the film yet; we’re still on our festival run. We only recently started contacting distributors. In terms of advice, I would just say, make the best film you can possibly make. Don’t take
Does this film have a market in the DRC? Is there a significant content market in the country? Or a significant number of cinemas? What about television or online distribution? SM: Yes, this film has been very well received in the DRC. People really love it. It’s a film that is made by them and for them; the characters speak mostly Lingala instead of French and are easily recognisable to the audience. Being half Congolese, half American, I was able to get American quality without sacrificing Congolese authenticity. There are not many cinemas in the Congo. So again, we are doing something that is a first. When we had the world premiere in Kinshasa, we had to rent a conference room and convert it into a movie theatre. It was the first time a film premiered in Kinshasa and people were very happy with the experience. The press was very positive. Since then a couple of theatres have opened up. People in Kinshasa will have the opportunity to see John of God: The Movie on the big screen. Several television stations have approached us – Canal+ is one – but we need to finish the festival and theatrical run before we negotiate with them. The internet is becoming more accessible; people in the DRC are already downloading movies online. The problem is the internet in the Congo is still underdeveloped. Streaming doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to but there are companies working on it. Soon it will open up and there will be more choices. So we will work with our sponsors to find a formula that makes it convenient and affordable for the population. What cameras were used on the production and where was post-production done? Perhaps a few words about your DOP and editor? SM: We used a few cameras. The principal camera was a Canon 5D Mark III. The New York scenes were shot with a Canon C300. We even used a Go-Pro for a couple of scenes. My editor was
T Woody Richman who is an AfricanAmerican that I’ve known for 20 years. He cut my very first short film back in the 90s. He is also Michael Moore’s editor. It was a great collaboration. You have to have a trustworthy editor. A bad editor can ruin a great film. As a director, you want to keep everything. It’s hard to cut scenes, shots and characters that you love. An editor concentrates on the story and pace of the film. It’s another form of storytelling. I had to listen to his judgment despite my pride. In order to do that, I needed to trust him, which I do explicitly. When I saw the results, I was very happy. We had a few DOPs. I did some of the camera work and we had an American DOP for the New York shoot. But our main DOP was Daniel Albertse, a South African. I don’t think he trusted me at first so it led to a pretty contentious relationship and this affected the entire crew. When the DOP doesn’t trust the director or like his creative choices, the director can potentially lose control of the set. An actor shouldn’t have to witness an argument between the two. With the editor, debates happen behind closed doors, with the DOP it’s in front of everybody. If they get along, the crew is happy because they are given clear directions. It is the most important relationship on the set. Even though it started roughly, we smoothed it out pretty quickly. The working conditions were not ideal and everyone had to go above and beyond the call of duty. He was doing camera and lights with little help. I realised that he cared about the project and wanted to make the best film possible. I learned to be a better communicator and he started to trust my choices. Once that happened, we had a great time on set and we laughed a lot. He’s a great DOP and we ended up with a beautiful film. What’s next – both for John of God and for you? SM: We are going to a film festival in southern Italy called the Salento International Film Festival (5 to 13 September). Afterwards we return to Kinshasa to start a theatrical run. We are talking to distributors in Italy, Belgium and South Africa, so hopefully we’ll see it in the theatres internationally. Eventually we will do a follow up film – I’d love to see John of God go to the US. It’ll be a satire about America’s narcissism. Other than that, I’ve started a new script that I am very excited about; a period piece about pre-colonialism in the Congo. I think it could reshape the way we see our past. Most people don’t know how advanced we were on the continent long before the white man got here. We weren’t just naked savages; we had great architecture, trade routes, astrology, medicine and governments – not only in Egypt but all of Africa and specifically the Congo. I want to recreate this. I think it makes for great content. – Compiled by Warren Holden
September 2015 | SCREENAFRICA | 17