WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY LINDIWE MAKGALEMELE
Lindiwe is a graduate of Harvard University where she majored in History and minored in Romance Languages and Literature.
Her work both within the archive and as a filmmaker seeks to tackle the continued erasures, misrememberings, and disappearances one has to confront as one-pieces together stories — particularly those of black and African women.
Q&A WITH LINDIWE
Firstly, a huge congratulations Lindiwe on winning our Film Fund and being able to film the short during this difficult time.
Did the script go through any development from the time that you won the Fund to when you went into production? If so, what were the main changes?
For the most part not much changed when we went into production aside from a few lines of dialogue the cast improvised. Other than that the script primarily remained unchanged.
Do you think about the practicalities of filming when you write? If so, how has that changed your writing process, or have you always thought that way?
When I am writing I try to think of the screenplay as crafting opportunities for visual storytelling. I try to write to the strengths of the medium. Filming this short was the first time I had ever been part of any production so I didn’t really have any nuanced understanding of the practicalities of filming beyond what I had read about. If anything I think I was conservative this time around and filming has more room than I anticipated for experimentation and problem-solving. I look forward to pushing things further with my future projects both in the writing process and in how I work to translate the script to screen.
Once you won our Film Fund, what were your next steps? Did you always know that you wanted to direct the project? Did you have a producer or production company in mind?
I have wanted to direct for the longest time but found that the barrier to entry was pretty high, particularly where resources are concerned.
I had already identified and partnered with a producer, Nolitha Mkulisi (Brown Flamingo Productions) who I felt understood the story, the world, and the people I hoped to portray. What the Fund allowed was to move forward with planning with greater freedom considering that we are in the middle of a pandemic.
I’m sure COVID affected the logistics of your shoot immensely. Can you and your producer Nolitha talk a little bit about how you scheduled the shoot and what it was like on set?
Nolitha: COVID affected us in several ways, but not as much as it would have a production made on a bigger scale with more money. Independent films/shorts in South Africa are usually made with minimal crew in any case, so it helped keep the personnel and activity to the bare minimum, given the fact that we were awarded a bit more money than what we’d initially anticipated. The effects of COVID were more so financially related in ensuring that we underwent the right protocol during a pandemic, namely purchases that we would have never had to think about before: an excess of hand sanitisers, thermometers, individually packed catering; wrapping within schedule to avoid breaching curfew which then was 21h00; COVID tests for key personnel – to name a few. If anything this process taught us that there are many more ways to make films and perhaps keeping things simple works out even better to ensure that you’re not unnecessarily spending money, as the economy of making films is currently downsizing, more so in the South African context.
How did you find the cast? Did you get much time to rehearse with them before the shoot?
We worked with a casting director (Mvelisi Mvandaba) who helped with casting remotely. We held one round of callbacks, a virtual chemistry test, and had one rehearsal shortly before filming. Our lead Lesedi (Tebogo Bahula) was a first-time actress so in addition to our rehearsal, I also video chatted with her before filming. The first time we had our cast together in one place was two days before filming for a brief rehearsal.
What would you say is your directing style? Do you use storyboards. Allow your cast to improvise?
Our DP (Frances Kroon) and I compiled pretty detailed floor plans and shot lists. I think one needs to have some kind of plan even if it might change during filming.
Once the cast was set the characters weren’t mine anymore and I moved into the role of witnessing and assisting in their own discovery of the characters I know and love. What that means is that I ask a lot of questions and encourage questions from my cast as well. It honestly reminded me of my experiences teaching which to me is simply facilitating learning.
Which writers and directors are you most influenced by?
I’m still trying to find my voice and I’d say my primary influences are in art and literature – at least this is what I always revisit. The writers and thinkers that mean a great deal to me are Zora Neale Hurston, Saidiya Hartman, Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, and definitely Gabriel García Márquez. The photographers/artists whose work inspires me include Gordon Parks, Lorna Simpson, Santu Mofokeng, and Carrie Mae Weems. Also my dad. I have been looking at old family photos and love the unpretentious and unselfconscious way he captured joy and also the mundane.
In terms of directors probably Barry Jenkins, Celine Sciamma, and Hirokazu Kore-eda.
How is the edit coming together?
It’s coming along. It’s all slightly daunting but we have a wonderful editor, Peet van Staden who is patient, detailed, and is particular about the same things that I am particular about.
What are your aspirations for the short once it’s completed? Are you looking to make another short after this, or feature?
Well, I hope to have something I am proud of and that resonates with people. I’m not sure where exactly the short will go but I do hope for an opportunity to share it at a few festivals.
I recently just finished writing another short that I am hoping to work on after this project. And of course, a feature in the future.
What was one of the most fun moments of the shoot? What was the most difficult?
Funniest part…..there is a sequence in which Lesedi (Tebogo) is eating a popsicle. Now Tebogo is seven and didn’t need to be persuaded to eat a popsicle on camera. Things got more and more energetic with each take and each new popsicle. When we were done I said she could stop eating the popsicle (we were maybe on the 5th one) and she clutched onto it tightly and said “No! I’m fine!” and gave this Mojo Jojo-like cackle.
Most difficult was probably getting everything done. We had an ambitious shot list and little time in which to cover it all while chasing the light.
Do you have any advice for filmmakers embarking on a short film?
It feels strange to offer any advice as such a new filmmaker, but I’d say have strong opinions but hold them loosely. This is to say, have a really clear idea of what you want but be open to adapting and collaborating in service of the story you want to tell.