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Meet the Tribeca Filmmakers #39: ‘Wavumba’ Director Jeroen van Velzen

Meet the Tribeca Filmmakers #39: 'Wavumba' Director Jeroen van Velzen

Growing up in Kenya probably led Jeroen van Velzen to hear some different stories than many of us did when we were children.  As with all kids, though, van Velzen was just as susceptible to the influence of these childhood stories.  As van Velzen tells it, the simplicity and magic of those stories of our youth are what inspired him to make his documentary “Wavumba,” wherein an aging fisherman is on a neverending quest to reclaim some of the glory of his younger days. 

What’s it about: “Wavumba” is a film about an old fisherman, Mashoud, who wants to catch a big shark as he did in the old days. Mashoud brings me into a world where fantasy, belief and reality cannot be differentiated from one another.

van Velzen says: “When I lived in Kenya as a child I was very susceptible to the stories told to me by another old fisherman, Gatete. He died years ago. As I got older, my belief in supernatural powers disappeared, but a part of me still longed for that open, unprejudiced way in which I looked at life.

Two years ago I met Mashoud, on the coral island Wasini, and his steady helper Juma. How long Mashoud remains without a catch, every day he sincerely believes that tomorrow he will catch a shark. I realise that the magic of this world rests in the simplicity of it.”

What’s your background? Why did you decide to make movies?: “The first years of my life I lived with my parents on a boat. Before my 11th birthday I had sailed more miles than most owners of large yachts. When I was eleven we went to live on the mainland of Kenya. Kenya was great, but there were no schools for me, so my parents sent me to boarding school in England. There I lived by a strict regime. In short grey pants and a tie, I now had to get through long dreary days, while I longed for the holidays in Kenya. I never did so well at boarding school, there was always that feeling of nostalgia. Fantasy was my only escape.”

Challenges while developing and producing the film?: “During the research we stayed for a month on and around the island Wasini. We followed Mashoud in his daily activities. Every morning we had to get up at four o’clock and stumble after Mashoud over the island to the dark mangrove forest. At low tide we walked over, again with great difficulty, through the mangrove forest, over the dry land to the boat. Then at high tide we could enter the boat and paddle for the rest of the way back. In the daytime it was so hot there, over a 100F degrees, we hardly could work. And it was quite an adventure to do the shooting in the small wooden boat. Lennart, our cameraman, was seasick quite regularly. And we lost some equipment in the water. When we lost a filter, Juma dived for it, and found it.”

What would you like Tribeca audiences to take away from the film?: “When you grow up, you lose a lot of your imagination and dreams I think. Not everyone has a childhood like mine, but every child grows up with amazing stories or myths he believes in. That makes this film more than just my personal discovery. By bringing you into the Kenyan reality, which is bound to other laws than ours, I want to wake up that feeling of magic you had as a child.”

What would you like to get out of your Tribeca experience?: “I think it’s great that “Wavumba” is selected for the Tribeca Film Festival. I can’t wait to come to New York and see how people react to my film. I’m doing a lot of Q&A’s so I hope to get some interesting questions, and maybe require some new insights. Besides that, I’ll probably see some great new inspiring documentaries, and meet some interesting people.”

Future projects?: “I’m not working on anything specific at the moment. After making WAVUMBA I went back to Africa, I bought an old fisherman’s boat and sailed with my girlfriend to Zanzibar. Maybe I’ll come across some new interesting worlds, or meet inspiring people. A subject for a new film will soon cross my path.”

Indiewire invited Tribeca Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch for the latest profiles.

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