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INTERVIEW WITH JENNA BASS

Talent Press participant, Olu Yomi Ososanya from Nigeria sat down with South African director and writer, Jenna Cato Bass. She is the director of Love the one you love - the winner of the Award for Best South African feature at DIFF 2014. Both High Fantasy (2017) - her sophomore feature - and Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki, which Bass co-wrote, are playing at DIFF 2018.

Q: What inspired your previous film, High Fantasy?

A: I finished my feature film, Love the one you love, and was trying to decide what to do next. It was around the time that #feesmustfall (the student movement for free and decolonized tertiary education), started in South Africa. It became a big talking point and I felt that I wanted to do something, without knowing what, for a long time. How do I as a white filmmaker, make a film about identity politics and tell a story that’s bigger than just my experience (nobody wants to see that)

At the same time I was interested in making a body swap film as I had never seen one I liked. So I realized I could make a film that covered these various perspectives and ideas about identity politics. What it means to be a young person in South Africa. People could come see a body swap film which is also about issues.

Q: How did the collaboration with Wanuri Kahiu on Rafiki (2018) come about?

A: I’ve known Wanuri for a few years. We met during the Africa First programme by Focus Features. She made her short film Pumzi, I made mine, Tunnel, and we went to Sundance and Berlin together and got to know each other. She was a few years older than me and I looked up to her. We kept in touch. She’d been working on Rafiki for a few years, wanted a fresh pair of eyes and invited me on board to work on it.

Q: What’s your next project?

It’s in post-production. It’s a contemporary Western set in South Africa. It’s about a middle aged police woman who returns to the town she used to work in, to prove her ex-fiancé is innocent of murder. So that she can marry him.

Q: You improvise in a lot in your films. Can you talk about that process?

First thing is to accept that to collaborate means you don’t have full control. A lot of filmmakers like the idea of collaboration, but it’s scary to give up control of your film. Because of how much you’ve invested in it and there’s the pressure to get it right.

In my experience the more I try to exercise control, the less control I actually have. At the end of the day I’m not playing the character, the actor is, they know that character better. So I invite people to be part of the process to make it better.

Q: What’s it like being a filmmaker in Africa?

A: From my understanding it’s a different experience here in South Africa from other African countries, in the sense of the resources available. We have a film foundation that funds movies, so that makes it easier. But it’s still quite difficult. The thing that’s harder than getting films made is getting them distributed and making it sustainable. Getting people to see them, and in cinemas for long enough for them to make money.

We have a really good service industry for Western countries to come here and make films. We have a TV industry for soapies and drama, but for film we still have a long way to go.

This story emanates from the Talent Press, an initiative of Talents Durban in collaboration with FIPRESCI and the Goethe-Institut. The views of this article reflect the opinions of the film critic, interviewer Olu Yomi Ososanya

https://www.berlinale-talents.de/bt//talent/oluyomitolulope-ososanya/profile