Oliver’s French twist

2011-01-28 09:16

Curating a festival of French film must be a filmmaker’s dream job. How did you get it?
I was offered the opportunity by Nicolas Doyard at the French embassy in South Africa.

He has been a great supporter of young South African film directors and cinema.

Did you start with a list of ­filmmakers or subjects?
I started with a bit of both. My major intention was to showcase the work of particular French ­directors – in France directors establish an aesthetic and style that is very personal and strong.

The French business is so supportive of cinema as an art form, so filmmakers have a fairly enviable space to work in.

How did you go about whittling down the French output for two years to seven films?
With Nicolas I looked at the major festivals that I had attended last year, and cued up all the French films that stuck with me.

But I knew that we had to have a Francois Ozon film, a Claire Denis film and a Dardenne brothers film as these filmmakers are particularly prominent.

Explain why you selected On Tour to open this year’s festival?
The film was such a entertainer last year at the Cannes Film Festival.

It’s a road movie across France and the director Mathieu Amalric is a very famous French actor as well, and I thought it best to start the festival with something fun and boisterous.

Another of the films, Black ­Venus, is likely to create a buzz with local audiences, how did you feel after seeing the film?
This film tells the tale of Saartjie Baartman (who was exhibited at freakshows in 19th century Europe).

It is a reminder of the history of this country, the gross human-rights violations that we suffered through.

It’s a powerful film, and I hope people will go see it.

You have selected Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s latest film, ­Lorna’s Silence.

What about their craft resonates with you?
I could talk about the genius of the Dardennes for hours. Their work is mesmerising. They offer sensitive stories to an audience about people on the fringes of ­society.

Their work is extremely economical, they never exploit an audience’s emotions or intellect.

Their films are effortless, the work they do with actors is unmatched, and they are completely underexposed here in South Africa, despite the fact that their work has won an incredible number of prizes.

What resonates with me is their ability to hook you into the life of a character.

You are holding a master class featuring your award-winning first film Shirley Adams.

What do you hope to pass on to filmmakers and film lovers?
It’s mildly nerve-racking to offer a masterclass having only just completed shooting my second ­feature, but I think in this context what I hope to do is offer some insights to filmmakers about the realities of making films in South Africa, more importantly films that deal with characters and not plots.

Having been trained at a very old European film school, I am passionate about cinema that ­challenges rather than relaxes.

What can South African filmmakers learn from the French in ­creating a successful, self-sustaining film industry?

The French have a fairly well ­established and organised system.

Most importantly it operates like a bank, saving money on behalf of all film producers in France, thus ensuring that there is always money for more films.

By understanding that it’s ­important to offer an audience a variety of cinema and also by ­producing films that challenge, they have proved that it allows for a stronger industry.

What is your filmmaking ­philosophy?

A good film can only come from a good story. If it does not work on paper, it will not work on the screen.

Festivals have become the only way for the public to see a wider range of global films. Why do you think local distributors have lost their taste for variety?

The horrible truth is that the film industry is a business. And until local audiences start demanding a greater variety, the distributors will continue to offer them the limited selection that they seem to consume silently.

What we need in distribution is new blood, people who love and appreciate cinema, and who strive to offer up variety and quality.

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