Why Jenna Bass is one of our favourites

Johannesburg - Jenna Bass struck gold at the Durban Film Festival this year. #Trending touches base with the pioneering film maker 

High Fantasy has just won at the Durban International Film Festival. Please tell us what it’s about and when we ordinary people will be able to see it?

High Fantasy is a found-footage body-swap satire, following a group of young South Africans on a camping trip to a remote farm, where they unexpectedly find one another stuck in someone else’s body. We hope to share it with everyone this year – follow us on social media; you’ll find out about it first.

You shot it on iPhones. That sounds rad but must be pretty scary?

Not scary at all – we all have way more experience shooting on our phones than we do on high-end cameras. Also, considering who the story was about, and who the film is for, there was really no better way to film it.

How was High Fantasy received by international youth audiences? Are there common experiences globally, especially for Fallists?

Of course we hoped that young people would relate to the common struggles. And that was the case – even with much younger kids than I would have expected. Especially in North America, these conversations around race, class, land, identity, gender are all essential conversations for millennials. The film might in many ways be very local, but it also has its fair share of hashtag, pizza and Kanye West references to feel familiar.

It’s very cheeky, having body-swap 1980s vibes but your first feature, Love the One You Love, was also lurid and cheesy. Both are hugely low budget. How do you imagine a film? Where do get your ideas?

It’s really impossible to describe briefly – it’s something that happens over a long period of thinking, reading, conversation and general angsting … But, at the same time, things also click very quickly. Usually I have a story I want to tell, but I don’t know why … I then have to figure out the meaning behind it – in this case a body-swap movie actually translates into a story about intersectional identity politics … or vice versa. I’m not sure.

Do you think we take ourselves too seriously in our filmmaking? By that I mean we seem to take 10 years to make the Great South African Movie and by then it’s 10 years out of date. Should we be more like Nigeria?

Ideally, we should have space for all kinds of films – films that are passion projects that take a decade to make and movies that are created in two weeks … But taking oneself less seriously is seldom a bad thing though. And what I admire about Nollywood is the number of films that get made. The more films you make, the more practice you get – and, more important, the more voices get heard … in theory.

You’re editing the next one already. Is it still a feminist Western in search of apartheid’s secret nuclear weapons? What can you tell us about it?

Ag man, I have to admit that the nuclear bomb aspect of the film is no longer there … but it’s made way for some really interesting characters who I hope transcend the usual “strongfemale lead” cliché. Besides, this way I get to make a film about bombs at some other stage.

What are the greatest joys and challenges you’ve faced as a film maker in this territory?

I once read an interview with the director Michael Haneke in which he said that your job as a film maker is to surprise the audience. I totally take this to heart, but also the reverse – that as a film maker your job is to be surprised. The less I make film making about total control and the more I involve others in the process, the more I admit what I don’t know, rather than clinging to being a boss or an auteur. If you do that, then you can be surprised … and in return you can make films that are surprising. In terms of challenges … Where do I start? Any film industry reflects the oppressive systems of the country it’s in. Specifically, we have a major distribution problem here. Until a wide variety of local films can be watched by a wide variety of local people, until film makers partake of that revenue and can use it to create more films, I’ll continue to insist that we don’t really have a film industry.

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