Picking up where I last left off in the series… but first a recap.
Announced last fall, the 5 filmmakers selected for the next class (2011) of Focus Features’ Africa First program were Oshosheni Hiveluah (from Namibia); Cedric Ido (from Burkina Faso); Mark Middlewick (from South Africa); Akosua Adoma Owusu (from Ghana); and Zelalem Woldemariam (from Ethiopia).
For those unfamiliar with the program… launched in 2009, Africa First was created “to foster and develop long-term relationships with some of the most promising up-and-coming filmmakers from continental Africa.”
The aim is that, through financial support of the program and mentorship provided by the Focus Features Africa First Advisory Board, to bring African filmmakers into an environment that will allow them to grow as filmmakers with an international audience. Each year, five filmmakers are awarded $10,000 each for production on a narrative short film made in continental Africa.
Kisha Cameron-Dingle, producer of such such projects as Spike Lee’s 2000 film, Bamboozled, and the 2005 TV drama about Rwandan genocide, Sometimes in April, runs the Africa First program for Focus Features, and her company,Completion Films, has a first-look and consulting deal with the company.
As well as on-site work in Africa, the progam includes a weekend of workshops in New York City with the program’s international advisory board of experts in African cinema.
We posted an into to the program interview with Kisha a few weeks ago (read it HERE if you haven’t; you’re strongly encouraged to do so); and as I promised, interviews with the 5 new filmmakers selected for the new current class (who are likely in production on their films right now, or soon to be), as well as their advisers, were forthcoming.
I’ve already posted 4 entries – 2 filmmakers and 2 advisers.
Here’s my chat with the 3rd filmmaker, Oshosheni Hiveluah from Namibia. Her short film prior to getting into the Africa First program, was titled Cries at night, a tale of forgiveness she wrote and directed, and which was part of the L’atitude-Quest for the Good Life series sponsored by the Goethe Institute Johannesburg, in collaboration with Art in Africa.
First, your name, country, and a little bit about your project?
Okay, My name is Oshosheni Hiveluah and I’m from Namibia. My project is at the moment entitled 100 Bucks and it’s basically about a kind of currency that populates the city and you get to know different social, economical dynamics of the city.
So this isn’t your first film? You’ve made other films?
Is this your first time going through such a rigorous process to actually get a film made? It’s a new experience for you I presume?
Yea, I think in terms of getting so much advice and counsel, it definitely is the first time that people really look at your script attentively and really make you answer questions about what you’re doing, what you want to say, you know what I mean? I’ve gone through screenwriting workshops and all of that but nothing as attentive as this where people are really like we want to help you make this project and just say, okay, here’s the money.
Are you excited? Are you nervous? Are you anxious? All of the above?
I think it’s a little bit of everything. I really am excited and also a little bit under a lot of pressure but all in all, I think from what I’m going to take away from this, I know that I can make a better film than what I did last time.
So, the pressure that you speak of is pressure from where? Is it pressure from yourself, pressure from Focus, pressure from your contemporaries, pressure from the media?
I don’t think so much from Focus. I think they’ve just encouraged us to step up our game. But I think just also seeing all of the other projects from previous years and all of that and obviously you want to achieve that-
Yeah, the bar has been set pretty high-
If you could paint a picture of what your professional film career would be, or what that life would look like? Would you be working in the states, would you be working in Namibia, going back and forth, would you be working in Hollywood? What would that look like for you, ideally?
I definitely want to be more of an independent filmmaker, in terms of being able to just kind of tell the story that I would like to tell as opposed to someone telling me okay this sells and this what you have to put in there, and a couple of explosions. You know what I mean? And I think I’m also more of the kind of filmmaker who probably does a bit more serious and they deal with human epics, as opposed to a comedy or action.
The thing is, as much as I would love to shoot in Namibia, I also don’t want to define myself as I’m only going to make films in Namibia. So if it is a project I could do in South Africa, or the states, or Europe, I would definitely take the chance because I believe it’s always like you want to grow and you want to do something that’s going to challenge you. You always want to work with new people as well and different kinds of producers, and try out different styles and all of that.
You were talking about trying to explain what your style is. Is there an influence or filmmaker working that you emulate or find close to your style?
I think there is different kinds of filmmakers that have definitely influenced the type of films that I make and the ones I want to tell. I’m a big fan of Italian cinema a lot. I like South American cinema because I find it very raw, so I want to probably take a little bit of everything and use it.
Contemporary Italian cinema?
I used to look at the cinema back in the days and I’d watch all of the white films and all of that. So it was definitely like the older films and also going back and looking at what they did back then and what made great cinema at the time.
Your thoughts on African cinema on the global stage? Those on the outside and in the states think there’s kind of a perception that it’s not up to par, and can’t compete on a global, worldwide stage with films from Asia, from America, from Europe, but do you sense that this is the case, or do you think its changing, or do you give that any thought?
Wow. (Laughs). It’s always a thing of like African cinema being the small-area kind of film, really slow-paced. But I think now I think the whole paradigm is shifting because now you have a lot of filmmakers coming out and it doesn’t matter where you’re from. Why can’t I do like a sci-fi film, why can’t I do an action film, why is it that I need to be restricted to certain genres. It’s definitely breaking that open and I think also now with all of the different media and stuff, you can do a whole lot more. For example, in Namibia I wouldn’t always get my equipment and all that is changing so I’m able to do almost more with less if that makes sense.
Do you feel any pressure or burden or weight on your shoulders to represent, whether it’s Namibia or Africa on the global stage? Does that influence how you decide to make your films? Do you feel like you have to present it in a certain way or is it like, I’m an individual and I’m making my film?
You know, in as much as I probably am, even if I don’t want to or not, I am presenting Namibia and Africa to a certain level and I also don’t want to define myself and be like, Okay here I’m portraying the whole of Africa because I am not. I’m really just one filmmaker and I might have a specific style but that doesn’t mean that people in the Congo making those kind of films, or I’m creating the standard. So for me, more than anything I would like to seen as an individual as I am and the individual filmmaker that tells the stories that I am able to tell and the ones I’m concerned and passionate about.
What’s the general state of cinema in Namibia? Correct me if I’m wrong but there is no industry like there is in South Africa or Nollywood for example.
It’s very small and I think in the past, there’s been a lot of people working on international productions and then once in a while you have commissioned work, many of them are on social issues like health, and education. But it’s really starting and people are getting out there, writing their own screenplays.
But it’s still very small and we get a lot of crew from outside, a lot of equipment from outside, and if one person is shooting, you can’t really shoot at the same time because there’s not enough crew for all of that. But I think it’s good to see a lot of filmmakers emerging, and people saying, I want to do this even if they aren’t able to live off it full-time. I think just the motivation and determination is there.
I’m ignorant to filmmaking in Namibia in general, and I think the only film made about Namibia that I’m familiar with is made by an African American in Charles Burnett’s film, Namibia: Struggle for Liberation. It hasn’t be released so I haven’t seen it, and I’m not sure how good or bad that is/was. But I’m wondering what the perception of that film is/was locally, because that is a film about Namibia’s history, but it’s not told by a Namibian; it’s told by a Black American. So I’m curious about what the general perception of that film was in Namibia?
I can probably speak for myself that there was a lot of excitement on our part. In terms of the product, I don’t necessarily think it was a film that needed to be told by a Namibian filmmaker but I think sometimes, especially when you’re from that place, maybe you grew up within a certain section of the whole liberation struggle and you come to be prejudice against different points of view, so I don’t have a problem with that at all.
The thing about it though is it was so much history, and there was so many characters and I am from Namibia and I do actually know my history of that country and I was like, who is that dude? There was a lot in a 2-hour film and it was overwhelming and I was like if I’m from Namibia and I’m struggling to follow, imagine outsiders watching it. Other than that, it was a little too overwhelming. It was the first time they attempted to do that and I think the executive producer on it just didn’t have the experience and he just didn’t know how to go about it. All he knew was, I want to make a movie and he went and ahead, but forgot about the whole marketing and distribution deal.