The DFA was established in 2007 to promote and protect the interests of doc filmmakers in South Africa. To contact the DFA, please use the contact form: here . The DFA website is at: Membership applications can be made through the website here.

20 October 2007

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Award-winning documentary director and DFA member Francois Verster is a tutor at City Varsity Cape Town. This year, the film and television students will be presenting their documentary pitches on Friday 9th November from 09h00 to 11h00. Some of these students have stories that could go places on the strength of their subject matter alone and this pitching session is an ideal forum to meet new talent in Cape Town. DFA producers are invited to attend. If you are interested and require further information, please email:


MBEKI UNAUTHORIZED DOCUMENTARY: In the wake of the screening of this film, the DFA has decided it will be drafting a letter to ICASA in support of the issues raised by Broad Daylight Films. If you did not see the documentary when it was broadcast, visit the film's website.

The DFA intends compiling user-friendly examples of different kinds of contractual agreements for licenses, co-productions as well as commissions. However, in the meanwhile, here is the BBC's standard programme production agreement to read through and download.

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One of South Africa’s most avant garde and innovative filmmakers, Ian Kerkhof a.k.a. Aryan Kaganof creates work that “seems to be formed almost entirely of endgames in which the sense of conclusion, with its payoffs and rewards, is never present.” (Visit Virus Films for a list of his work produced in the Netherlands and South Africa). Recently, Kaganof completed SMS Sugarman, a feature film created under the DV8 initiative. “It works”, says the prolific writer/director of numerous feature films, shorts and video art. “We shot with up to eight Sony Ericsson W900i mobile phones, and the results are beyond our expectations. The results of the blow-up tests were amazing. This camera has liberated film makers from the tyrannies of the 35mm set. Finally I can truly say that I FILM WHAT I LIKE.”

Mobile phones and 3G technology have the potential to put documentary filmmaking in the hands of ordinary citizens. To read more about this exciting process of transposing cellphone videos onto the big screen, visit Kaganof’s dedicated site that deals with the process of filmobile .

Kaganof is an ardent blogger, hosting pages about South African cinema . Visit his blog for pieces about:

*SA’s lack of film production talent and the likely impact this will have come 2010.

*South Africa’s dire need for a national film school.

*Filmmaking and the ANC’s succession battle.

Photo courtesy of Veli Nhlapo

This week’s Kaganof’s documentary WESTERN 4.33 was showcased in the UK.

This unconventional 32 minute documentary explores the genocidal tactics employed by the German colonial forces against the Herero people of Namibia. Between 1904 and 1907 thousands were detained and died in concentration camps which would later serves as models for the Holocaust. Bleak black and white cinematography and challenging sound design work together to create a strong visceral experience.

View further Kaganof links:
Kaganof on My Space



Veteran South African independent documentary filmmaker Kevin Harris was one of three recipients of a Golden Horn for Lifetime Achievement at the SAFTAs. Harris was not able to be present to accept his award but he forwarded the acceptance speech that he had intended to make. Here is a transcript of his speech:

Many thanks to Eddie Mbalo and the NFVF for this Lifetime Achievement Award. Being an independent documentary film-maker is about passion. Passion to survive, passion to see your vision realized, passion to say what needs to be said no matter the personal cost.

Everyday I work with and have exposure to a new generation of young aspirant filmmakers in South Africa and I am truly encouraged by the energy, commitment, wonderful new ideas – new approaches – the passion that I witness. To this special group of young people, I say: “Don’t let anyone or anything stop you. Be brave, safe-guard your integrity and remain independent thinkers.”

Everything I have done in my career as an independent filmmaker has been against the grain, achieved in spite of the system and not with the support of the system. It’s time that that situation changed.

Your giving this award tonight in recognition of my life and work as an independent filmmaker demands that I say a little of what needs to be said.

The SABC is a crucial major player in the SA film and TV industry. The SABC has a mandate and a responsibility to fulfill its obligation in contributing to the creation of a vibrant and sustainable independent filmmaking sector in South Africa.

There are many good people inside the SABC. You know who you are and I thank you for what you have managed to do against tremendous odds. But SABC upper management has to catch a wake-up call. Your lack of passion is crippling the industry.

You need to demonstrate vision, you need to demonstrate passion. You need to lead by example and inspire a generation of emerging young filmmakers, not grind them down through your apathy, undermining them in the process as you are currently doing.

We cannot have a situation, for example, where it takes nine months after commissioning to produce a contract; where paperwork sits for four weeks somewhere in the maze at Auckland Park on a desk called Airtime Sales; a situation where someone doesn’t push the right button and people don’t get paid.

The problems are not difficult to solve. It just needs someone in upper-management to care – to stand up, take responsibility and demonstrate leadership - to be the Captain of the ship.

With regard to the SABC Board, we don’t need self-serving politicians. It’s time that politics in South Africa is confined to parliament.

We need committed, passionate individuals whose prime objective is to transform the SABC from a blundering Titanic into a flagship that proudly inspires and leads the way in creating an exciting, vibrant, passionate and sustainable filmmaking sector in South Africa.

This situation has gone on for too long. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. I thank you for this award.

For information on Kevin Harris' CV, life-history and filmography visit Kevin's website


PAPER TO READ AND COMMENT ON: please download and read this significant new paper titled Innovations In Copyright for Digitised, Sustainable Film in South Africa available on the icommons website. Please either vote on line or email your feedback to


The New Films From Africa Initiative in Cologne, Germany is an annual festival that showcases emerging work from the continent. The festival accepts long and short form, fiction and documentary. If you're interested in submitting a film email Ulf Valentin: The festival website has further info but it is in German only.

Submissions for the Canadian Hot Docs 2008 festival are now being accepted. The early entry deadline is December 10, 2007 and the late entry deadline is January 10, 2008. Visit the website for details on eligibility and submission fees.


PocketVisions is calling for film submissions for the expanded London International Documentary Festival (LIDF) - A Conversation in Film, 2008. The festival is presented in association with the London Review of Books, and with the support of the British Museum, Curzon Cinemas, Barbican and the UK Office of the European Parliament. 2008 sees a continued association with The Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival (New York). The LIDF will run for 6 days between Monday 31st March, and Saturday, April 5th, 2008.

The call for submissions goes out to an international field of applicants. All successful applicants will be invited to be present at the LIDF. We are looking to support new and innovative filmmaking talent, and to ask filmmakers to participate in a series of intertwining ‘conversations’ to be run alongside the screenings. These ‘conversations’ will involve academics, journalists, policy-makers, NGOs, and other cultural commentators.

The LIDF is calling for documentary films produced between January 1st 2006 and December 6th 2007, and is particularly, although not exclusively, interested in films that fall within the following categories:

* Environment

* Human Rights

* Memory/history

* Ethnography/anthropology

* Politics/Philosophy/Economics

* Heritage and the Arts

* Other social and development issues

Submission Procedure: Film-makers can enter their films, pay entry fees and find out how to submit their DVD or VHS preview copy at this LIDF link.

Once the on-line submission has been made entrants will receive a confirmation email and a unique Entry Reference Number

Deadline for Submissions: 6th December 2007

Late entries accepted until 30th December with penalty (see regulations). Films can only be returned if the ‘return fee’ is included in the submission.

Selected films from the LIDF will be automatically submitted for selection to the Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival, November 2008.


Every year television producers around the world are invited to submit programmes to the National Coordinators. Input's National Coordinators (NC's) are respected television professionals, representing the countries or regions involved in Input. Each country can submit a limited number of programmes, according to the country quota. The recommended programmes are then sent to an International Selection Committee that reviews the hundreds of submissions, for ten days each February, choosing the best 80-100 programmes to screen at the upcoming conference.

INPUT selectors look for programmes that:
Are innovative, original, unusual, controversial, courageous or experimental in form and content.
Go beyond conventional programme formulas in order to find new ways to reach the public.
Serve the public interest by addressing the viewer as a citizen, not as a consumer.
Will stimulate debate and discussion during the conference.

How Programmes are selected

There are two stages of the Input selection process... national pre-selection and final international selection.

National Pre-selection: In countries where Input has an NC, the NC organises a pre-selection process. Submissions from all other countries (where no NC is designated) are handled by Input's International Programme Coordinator, Sergio Borelli. Mr Borelli is also one of the founders of INPUT. About 2,000 programmes are considered each year during the pre-selection process.

Final International Selection: Of those initial 2,000 about 350 to 400 programmes are sent to the final International Selection, which takes place in Berlin, Germany in February. For ten days, 18 practising professionals from all over the world (known as Input's Shop Stewards) screen and evaluate the entries.

Finally, about 80-100 programmes are selected for the conference. The results of the International Selection are announced to producers at the beginning of March 2007 and will be posted on the Input 2008 website shortly thereafter.

Eligibility Requirements

Who is eligible?
Public broadcasting stations, independent producers and public television entities are all eligible to submit programmes to their Input National Coordinators. A programme aired by a private station may be accepted if it carries substantial public interest value and meets the Input criteria.

Programmes must have aired on public television, or have a station's promise to be aired. If you have questions about this requirement, please contact your National Coordinator. It is important that a production was produced for broadcast.

Production Date
Programmes must have been produced after January 2006.

All programming genres will be considered.

National Coordinators set their own schedules for national pre-selection. Most of the deadlines can be found on the National Coordinators list, if not contact your NC to confirm the deadline for your country. For all countries without National Coordinator, the deadline is 1st January 2007. Programme submissions will not be accepted after the applicable deadlines. (However, in South Africa's case please note that there is a National Coordinator so one can currently submit work.)

DVDs required
Two DVDs of each programme should be submitted. All programmes should be either in English or have English sub titles. In rare cases, programmes without subtitles are also considered if a dialogue list and/or script is included. If a programme is selected, its producer will be asked to provide two professional format tapes for screening at the conference.

Once a programme is selected, its submitter will be asked to provide a dialogue list to the Input organisers. Tapes will not be returned by the INPUT organisers unless specifically asked to do so.

Entry Fee
There is no charge for programme submissions.

Key Person
Input is a screening and debate conference. If the programme is selected, the director or a key person closely connected to the making of the programme (usually the producer or director) is required to attend the presentation during the conference. If the key person does not attend the conference, the programme will not be screened.

How to submit a Programme
You need to enter your programme submission online (see below).
Fill in the submission form and send it. If your country has a National Coordinator the submission goes automatically to him/her. If you are in a country without an NC the submission goes automatically to the International Programme Coordinator Sergio Borelli ( and to the INPUT International Selection in Berlin.
Print the submission form duly filled in and send it with two DVDs (or VHS tapes) by regular mail to your NC or to the INPUT International Selection (c/o Deutsche Welle TV, Managing Director's Office, Max Hoffmann, Voltastr.6, D - 13355 Berlin).
For more information visit the official website: INPUT2008

Cape Film Imbizo V4

Please download a registration form and download the schedule


*Reshaping Media Forum
The Bay Hotel, Camps Bay
“New media, new models, new rules, new results”
Media is on the move. Consumers are on the move and multi-platform content and entertainment is everywhere. Brands need to move from interruption to engagement. This forum will bring together thought leaders and decision makers to examine the challenges of modern advertising and how to engage with empowered consumers in the digital age.
Presentations will include:
- Marketing Opportunities: Social networking and user-generated content.
- Branded Entertainment: The Brand, the Agency, the Broadcaster and the Producer.
- Mobile Content and Mobile Marketing: What will people watch?
For a full list of speakers, please view the conference programme on the platypusblog
Cost: R850 + VAT per person

*Launch for Adobe 26 Letter Competition/ Revolver Awards & Cocktail Party
18h00-19h00 at the Rotunda at the Bay Hotel

*AnimationSA and The Black Heart Gang present animation from the international shorts festival and stunning local animation
Camps Bay Beach


*Funding and Distribution
(Free workshop)
The Bay Hotel, Camps Bay
Presentations by various bodies on funding opportunities available through national bodies like the GSB, NFVF, DTI and IDC. But more importantly, what opportunities lie within 2010 for the local film industry in service and content development within the Western Cape and Cape Town. Perhaps most exciting will be the presentations by new broadcasters: Walking on Water (WOW), E-Sat, Telkom and On Digital TV on their channels’ commissions. The session is free and open to all, but strict registration will be applied and we therefore urge you to complete your form and mail or fax it back to the CFC as soon as possible.

*Locations Update from CFC and GREEN Forum
(Free workshop)
The Bay Hotel, Camps Bay
The CFC will be updating all its members on location matters for the upcoming season of 2007/ 2008. Central to the presentation will be rules affected by the waivering of location fees as well as environmental vs industry concerns. We look forward to seeing all industry professionals involved in locations at these key briefing sessions. In line with its strategy, the CFC has always recognised the need for a triple bottom line approach, being people, finance and environment. Accordingly, the CFC will also be launching its GREEN Campaign for 2007/8 by firstly providing information on why and how one should be green friendly in production in a meaningful way, as well as how the CFC’s Green Campaign will roll out.

*AnimationSA and The Black Heart Gang present animation from the international shorts festival and stunning local animation
Camps Bay Beach


*Exhibition in Animation presented by Animation SA
The Bay Hotel, Camps Bay

*Demonstrations, career talks and screening in animation presented by Animation SA
(Venue not listed on CFC schedule. Presumably it is the Bay Hotel?)


If you are passionate about wildlife, if you have a desire to learn more about wildlife filmmaking and would like to develop your career as a wildlife filmmaker, then this intensive one month course offered by the Wildlife Film Academy is for you - inspire yourself! The Wildlife Film Academy operates a globally unique one month wildlife filmmaking course developed by international, experienced and award-winning wildlife filmmakers. It seeks to inspire and inform aspiring filmmakers and provide a variety of skills essential to making original and appealing wildlife films. Sponsored learnerships are also available: Wildlife Film Academy

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NEWS: The 90-minute documentary KEISKAMMA - A STORY OF LOVE is screening at RIDM RENCONTRES INTERNATIONALE DOCUMENTAIRE DU MONTREAL between 8th and 18th November 2007. Director Miki Redelinghuys will be there for the film's international premiere on the 10th of November which is also a special Alter-Cine Foundation benefit event. To read more about the Alter-Cine grant, click here . KEISKAMMA will have its European premiere at the end of November at IDFA .


KEISKAMMA - A STORY OF LOVE: In the tiny Eastern Cape hamlet of Hamburg a fully-fledged war is being fought. Grandmothers, the hospice and the good doctor Carol are fighting for hope, human dignity and the will to live. The women’s faithful fight to give to keep their community fit and on ARVs has been manifest in an incredible altarpiece, painstakingly sewn by 130 members.

This sensitive and studied portrait relays the strength, passion, tears and laughter of the wonderful characters in the altarpiece: the gogo Eunice who is such an essential figure in the hospice that she forgets to look after herself, the musician/prophet that runs designs into the sand, the doctor constantly checking that her patients have taken their medicine, and the lost boy searching to find his place in the world.



Image courtesy of Hulton-Deutsch Collection / CORBIS

Khalid Shamis is currently in production on a feature length documentary, titled I AM, that tells the story of the life and legacy of community martyr Imam Abdullah Haron who died In Cape Town in 1969 while incarcerated under the Terrorism Act. In this documentary the Imam's grandson goes on a personal journey as family and community attempt to get to grips with their past. Here is a clip from this work in progress:

NEWS: Brass Boys - a one hour documentary (clip below) created by DFA members Kyle O'Donoghue (director) and Miki Redelinghuys (producer) of PLEXUS FILMS has been selected for screening at IDFA: International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam 2007 as well as Docs For Sale. It was made as part of the Total Soccer series broadcast on and the same filmmaking team is about to embark on a new documentary about Greenpoint Stadium.

The IDFA 2007 festival programme

NEWS: Pirates Girls - a half hour documentary in post-production

This picture is from 'Pirates Girls', directed by DFA member Nceba Mqolomba, edited by Diliza Moabi and shot by Siyabonga Makhathini. It tells the story of Poppy Tladi (right) and Thina Mabhunga (left), two die-hard supporters of the Buccaneers. Here they are with the owner of Sundowns FC Patrice Motsepe.

NEWS: Soccer Muti
Naashon Zalk (director), Henner Frankenfeld (camera) and Irish Mathala (sound) are currently in KZN shooting a documentary about soccer muti.



Photos taken by Naashon Zalk

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In Prison My Whole Life


The following extract appears courtesy of filmmaker William Francome’s My Space page

My name is William Francome. I was born on December 9th 1981, during a snow storm in London. At almost exactly the same time over three thousand miles away in Philadelphia, a police officer was shot and killed. A prominent journalist was also shot at the scene and was subsequently arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to death.

The journalist, Mumia Abu-Jamal, has always protested his innocence, however during a trial that has been criticised for it's flaws, he was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. He has been on death row ever since and has become America's most famous death row inmate. As an author of 5 books from prison and a regular broadcaster (over the phone from death row) he has become a lightning rod for those on both sides of the political divide, not only in the U.S but around the world. He has won the backing of Amnesty International and Nelson Mandela while at the same time receiving scorn from many who consider it an affront to celebrate a convicted murderer.

Now... I'm going on a journey to find out more about what might have happened that night, about the city where it all took place and about the political and moral turmoil that surrounds the case....I'm going to find out about the man who's been in prison my whole life.


For operations in Iraq, the National Guard mobilized teachers, police officers, bankers, mechanics... and one filmmaker. Nine days after getting married, Steve Metze found out he was being deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Metze, a West Point graduate, Desert Storm veteran, and documentary filmmaker, decided to pack a camera and document his year in Iraq. Year at Danger is a soldier's story, told by the soldier. No bias, no headlines, just the day-to-day reality of life in Iraq. This is the trailer:


Cape Town-based Don Edkins is an executive producer for the STEPS global documentary project on democracy. The series of films is currently being screened internationally to much acclaim and reaching audiences through interactive web platforms as well as the Cape Town situated Democracy House that is home to a range of young global residents. Visit the series' website and join the conversation on MySpace. Here is a clip from the highly entertaining and insightful 'Please Vote For Me' directed by Chinese filmmaker Weijun Chen and produced by Don.

Below is a clip from Why Democracy's 'Bloody Cartoons' that deals with the Danish Allah cartoon controversy.



SlingShot Hip Hop is a documentary film that focuses on the daily life of Palestinian rappers living in Gaza, the West Bank and inside Israel. It aims to spotlight alternative voices of resistance within the Palestinian struggle and explore the role their music plays within their social, political and personal lives. Coming soon: SlingShot Hip Hop

The Israeli Centre for Human Rights - B'TSELEM - now has a site on My Space. Founded in 1989, its focus has been to inform the Israeli public about the realities of life in the Occupied Territories. To date B'Tselem has collected over 1,000 hours of footage from its fieldworkers, from Palestinians to whom they have given cameras, from local and international photographers. This footage has been entered into a digitalized archive with extensive search capabilities. The archive is made available to filmmakers, television and internet news services. They also produce their own short films on the key human rights issues which they seek to highlight. You will find some of these posted in this group.

Here is a video titled 'The Prisoners Children': Almost 9,000 Palestinians are being held in prisons inside Israel, in violation of international humanitarian law. In hundreds of cases, Israel forbids adult relatives to visit, so it is left to children under 16 to maintain the family contact.

The Prisoners Children

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Below are two new feature length docs provide intense examinations of lives lived dangerously. In both cases they are the work of filmmakers capturing explosive sagas in the developing world.


In 2004, Danish filmmaker Asger Leth secured widespread access to Cite Soleil, a slum of crushing poverty, Haitian hip-hop, voodoo magic and state-funded thuggery. The documentary opened in cinemas in the UK in July.

The following review appears courtesy of littlewhitelies

Ghosts Of Cite Soleil
Release Date: 20 July 2007
Directed by: Asger Leth
Starring: Winson ‘2Pac’ Jean, James ‘Bily’ Petit Frère, Éleonore ‘Lele’ Senlis

Words by Steve Watson
We’re all used to watching pictures of a messy war being fought on ramshackle streets, but nothing can prepare you for Ghosts of Cité Soleil.

In 2004, Danish filmmaker Asger Leth secured widespread access to Cité Soleil, a slum of crushing poverty, Haitian hip-hop, voodoo magic and state-funded thuggery that the United Nations has called ‘the most dangerous place on earth’. It’s clear from the first frame that the director is in his element.

2Pac and Bily are charismatic brothers, two of the five leaders of Cité Soleil’s ‘Chimères’, or ‘Ghosts’; a secret army of violent young men armed by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to provide cut-throat enforcement against rebels, rivals and protesters.

Theirs are harsh and tawdry lives confusingly split between political allegiance and basic survival. 2Pac is proud of his special powers, yet sings illicit protest songs against the man he fights for. Similarly, Bily has political aspirations and dreams of peace, but his idea of disciplining one of his ‘soldiers’ is to put a bullet in his foot.

The slums bristle with old guns and even older grudges, and the film’s sense of embedded authenticity – all tinderbox tension and whistling bullets – is testament to Leth and co-director Milos Loncarevic’s incredible bravery.

Yet this is not so much a piece of front-line journalism as it is a celebration of the brothers, particularly 2Pac with his musical aspirations and languid, lyrical patois. Long close shots of his high cheekbones and the taut muscles on his naked torso betray the filmmakers’ swooning fascination with their subject. In this respect they are not unlike Lele, a French aid worker who is happy to be filmed in 2Pac’s bed. She implores the brothers not to fight for Aristide, but is, at the same time, drunk on the romance of their lawless world.

Amongst the swagger, however, and the naïve glamour of boys’ own adventure, are scenes of incredibly lucid reality. A baby is pulled from its mother’s body and marched away by its feet, a metal clamp still hanging from the umbilical cord. It is an inglorious introduction to the world for a potential Chimère; a person who may make bad decisions and do terrible things, but who is damned from the start by a vicious cycle of poverty, violence and corruption.

The following interview with director Asger Leth was conducted by Kerry McLeod and appears courtesy of The British Documentary Website

Q: How did the film come about?

A: I was looking to do a feature film in Haiti that I’d been working on for quite a while… I wanted to shoot a narrative feature that I wanted to shoot documentary-style, with that kind of attitude.

For that kind of story to happen you need strong characters, who have hopes and dreams, and whose back is against the wall. And so I knew that I had to look in [the slums of Port au Prince] to find them. And then I heard about Lele [a French relief worker who also appears in the film], and I heard about a young Serbian guy, whose name was Milos Loncarevic [the film’s co-director and cinematographer]; those two guys were in the slum, hanging out there all the time and were friends with the gang leaders and had access. So I contacted them and through them I got in contact with 2pac and Bily who were perfect, because they were so different; brothers, gang leaders but so different. The moment I met them, they instantly wanted to do the film; they wanted to tell the story.

When all the pieces fell into place I didn’t have time to apply for money or anything like you usually do – make deals with TV stations or anything like that – I just had to basically ask people I knew for help, getting gear, film stock and then I maxed out my credit card and took loans.

Q: The film has such an incredible feature narrative. How did you go about structuring it, both as you were shooting and then in the edit?

A: We shot constantly for about six months but halfway through I went back to Denmark with the footage I had, and Milos kept shooting, and I found these editors whose work I really liked, and asked them… out of the material I had and the storyline I had, to edit together a trailer. So I actually did a trailer for the film while we were still shooting, because I wanted to see if I was right, that this kind of language could carry through. And I wanted them to cut the trailer like they were cutting a trailer for a narrative feature. So they did that and it worked. In a way, the trailer is a shorter form of a feature film, so I had the idea that if I could find the language of the film, cutting style, look, the sound, which was also very important to get this feature film feeling. If I could get all that stuff going… here’s your main characters, here’s the opposition, here’s where these guys want to go, here’s what’s against them, if you could feel all that stuff then I knew I had something. So I did that, and in doing that process, I realised what material I needed further in the film, what were the weaknesses and what were the strengths.

So I went back with that knowledge, and that trailer in my pocket, to Haiti, and finished the film. And then it was easy – I had 500 hours of material when I went back, and we already knew the language, the expression of the film – sound, style, everything, and so we could cut it, we didn’t have to look for the language, we already had that. So at this point it was just a matter of transcribing 500 hours of material - well it’s not just, it’s a big, big job! – and structuring that according to the synopsis. You know, three-act structure, everything was on the wall. I nailed a big, 10-foot long thing, with three acts, plot reversals, everything. I didn’t think the story could get any more intense, and then the love triangle emerged. Did that happen after you’d started filming?

Yes, that’s the only thing I didn’t write down on the first day and that’s a major presence in the film of course! I knew there was going to be rivalries between these guys because they’re so different, I knew there was going to be friction between brothers, and also I had the feeling that once the president and the external pressure was going to disappear, that dogs would be dogs and they’d start eating each other. That kind of stuff I was pretty aware of but this love triangle on top of everything… I mean I could feel the flirtation beginning but I had no idea it would come to this, it was a big surprise.

And I didn’t really know it was going to be a part of the film – that was only in the editing process. I had the choice to cut it out or keep it in, but I thought it made the film stronger.

Q: What was it like working with a co-director? How did the relationship work?

A: Milos is a young guy who grew up in Belgrade during the war. He was my access point to these guys; he knew them so well… He had an independent unit because he had to be in there non-stop to get them to forget the camera, so he had a lot of autonomy and that’s why he got the credit. He’s very talented and very courageous and the film would never have happened without him.

Q: You said you went out there with credit cards and a loan, and I wanted to ask how you then went about getting finance and selling the film on?

A: At the same time as I cut the trailer halfway through, I showed that to a Danish production company, Nordisk Film... They don’t really do a lot of documentaries, but they’ve just set up this new documentary department that a very, very good producer whose name is Michael Chr. Rieks, was starting up, and they were looking for projects that fit their profile, and I knew him and so I went to him and they were immediately: ‘yeah, let’s do it’. So they jumped on board, and they put some money from their own pocket and then they contacted Danish television (TV2) to give a little bit more money, and then we applied for money form the Danish Film Institute. [They] first rejected me and said that they didn’t want another news reportage from one of the world’s boiling points, and I sent the worst letter I’ve ever wrote to anybody back to [them], I told them they were shitheads… I have so much respect for the fact that they actually looked at that letter and said, he might be right, let’s look at it again. Usually people just close the door and never want to talk to you again with that kind of letter and for the commissioning editor at the Danish Film Institute, I think that was extremely courageous of her and open-minded, and she did that, and she saw that it was a different kind of film and so they went on board with money. And then I contacted Wyclef Jean and showed him the stuff, and wanted him to be in the film, and then also he was so crazy about it, he was like ‘yeah, I’d love to do the music, and if you need any more money, I’d love to be a part of that too.’ So he also put in money in the film.

Q: The scene with Wyclef Jean on the phone is a pretty strong scene. How did you get in contact with him?

A: 2pac was trying desperately to find him, because Wyclef is a hero beyond – he’s not a celebrity in Haiti, he’s the only symbol of hope that you can make it out and make it big somewhere in the world, he’s like the only guy who did it. He was born right next to Cite Soleil. 2pac was convinced that if he could just get hold of Wyclef then his life would change, but I couldn’t connect him with Wyclef, because I can’t interfere with the story. When you’re working with reality you have to realise that reality has to be your only strength. You can’t start fucking with that, you’re fucking yourself somehow, so I couldn’t interfere. But 2pac was recording some music in some really little shithole studio in Port au Prince and he met another Haitian-American who was down there recording something, who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew Wyclef. He got in contact with Wyclef and then I could contact Wyclef after that because I felt the door was open. That’s how we did it.

Q: That’s a really interesting point that you raise, about not being able to interfere. Working in a situation like that, that must have been quite difficult.

A: Ah yeah, I was like biting my lip, trying to hold back and keep a distance and not interfere. And it’s very important for me to say that I’m not doing it for any kind of misguided puritan ideas. I don’t believe in that kind of stuff. I’m not a journalist, I’m not trying to do something journalistic, balanced or objective, I think that’s all bullshit. I’m a filmmaker and I’m a storyteller, I don’t have any ethical problems. I have a problem with destroying my own strength, and when you’re doing a documentary, even though you want it to have a feature film drive, if you’re doing a documentary, it’s real and that has to be your strength. So you’re making yourself impotent if you’re interfering.

Q: For me, watching the film, that seemed obvious, but I’ve seen that other people have launched into debating the politics behind it, rather than dealing with the film itself.

A: I care about the politics, I’m very interested, but I’m not political filmmaker in that sense. Of course it’s political in many ways, but I’m not this kind of ‘I want to convince people about this, that and the other politically’, I think people should make their own choices. I wanted to make a film that’s a human drama, and of course it’s a human drama that’s set in a very, very political backdrop, but I wanted to get a sense of truth, I wanted to shoot the film at eyeheight, I wanted to be with the gang leaders and feel the politic life as they felt it. So I don’t want to convince anybody at all – I want the audience to judge for themselves. And it’s the same thing with the gangs. I get complaints that it’s sympathising with them too much. I’m not at all sympathising with them, but people, just because I’m not taking a stand against them, think that I’m sympathising with them; that’s not the case at all. This is cinema verite and I want people to make up their own minds. I think the moral judgements are not up to me. But I can tell you in this interview that I am totally opposed to anything these gangs do morally. I think they’re morally reprehensible and disgusting, and they’re killers. But the point is, when you keep looking at these gangs with that moral already on your sleeve, and not wanting to face up to the fact that they’re human beings also, then you have a problem. Like in Haiti right now, everybody wants to kill them and that’s the usual approach. It’s like 2pac says, ‘killing, killing, killing, when is it ever going to stop?’ And he’s right. Because these guys, they’re not the disease, they’re a symptom of the disease and you can try and cure that symptom but you’re not curing that disease. But part of the mission of the film is to make you see that they are human beings, because only then can we actually start thinking oh, maybe we have to not just kill these guys but actually fix the disease, which is how can there be a slum so horrible in a country like this? How can you let that happen? A place with nothing, no hope, no food, no water, no electricity, no sanitation, no nothing. And how dare you use the gangs as political weapons? I think that’s absurd. But you have to show the humanity of it, and that’s what I do, but that doesn’t mean I sympathise.

To find out more about Ghosts of Cité Soleil view the official site.


MANDA BALA: Send a bullet
Grand Jury Prize: Documentary at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.
Excellence in Cinematography Award at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.
Winner of the Special Grand Jury Prize at the 2007 BritDoc Film Festival
Limited theatrical release in cinemas in north America in August 2007

Jason Kohn's stylish homage to Errol Morris profiles a businessman who bullet-proofs his cars, a plastic surgeon who reconstructs the ears of kidnap victims, and a politician who uses a frog farm for money laundering. This fast-paced documentary tale of corruption in Sao Paolo, Brazil has prompted high praise as well as controversy.

The following interview with director Jason Kohn appears courtesy of Filmmaker Magazine

Five years in the making, Jason Kohn's Sundance award winning doc, Manda Bala explores the violence and corruption that runs wild in São Paulo.

Jason Kohn likes to say what’s on his mind. At 28, he’s already honed his skills from one of the greatest living doc directors, has an award-winning film (which he began at 23) and survived the slums of São Paulo, Brazil, to make it. So Jason Kohn can say what’s on his mind.

His film Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) is as brash and in-your-face as he is. In the film he looks at the city of São Paulo, where bulletproof cars, kidnappings and restorative plastic surgery are the norm. The fast-paced doc (a brisk 85-minute running time) has three main threads. One centers on the corrupt politician Jader Barbalho, who created the largest frog farm in the world for money-laundering purposes. Another looks at plastic surgeon Dr. Juarez Avelar, who has performed miracles for deformed former captives by reconstructing the ears their kidnappers have sliced off. Finally, we meet a kidnapper, “Magrinho,” who puts the whole film in perspective when he says, “You either steal with a gun or a pen.”

Kohn avoids didacticism or hand-wringing over why São Paulo is in disarray. Instead he animates his film with a hybrid of jazzily scored talking-head interviews and beautifully stylized narrative set pieces. The style and attention to detail draws comparisons to Kohn’s mentor, Errol Morris. (Kohn was Morris’s former assistant.) For example, Kohn took from Morris the idea of shooting interpreters in the same shot as their subjects, a strategy Morris used when he interviewed former USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev for a short that aired on the 2002 Academy Awards.

Kohn was awarded Best Documentary at this year’s Sundance and looks back in bewilderment on the five years he spent making the film. “I was 23-years-old and everyone thought of me as a student filmmaker,” he says. “For every interview everyone was shocked by the size of the crew, by the lights, by the equipment. They were expecting me, my buddy and a video camera, and they would walk into an environment that became a studio scenario. Long story short, I fell into it.”

Why did you want to make this film? I think a lot of the romantic bullshit about making movies is that you stumble on a story that “needed to be told.” I refuse to believe that quality stuff happens like that. I was in Boston, I was working for Errol Morris, and I wanted to make my own movie. Something to send to a film school to apply. The first day of filming [Manda Bala] was the first day I touched a film camera. I was doing research about Brazil and thinking about corruption. My dad lives in São Paulo, and he bitches about corruption nonstop. Then one day he told me about this frog farm, and it kept bugging me: what the fuck is a frog farm? And then I came across in The New York Times a story on the plastic surgeon and the ear reconstructions; I thought the culture of plastic surgery in Brazil being so huge was fascinating. I started seeing Manda Bala as a story about violence — most movies that are good in my mind are violent movies. So my first thought was that the frog farm, plastic surgery and all of those things were totally going to be subtext — you were going to intuit the corruption and the violence, and it was all going to be metaphorical. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. And then there was this idea of the rich stealing from the poor, poor stealing from the rich. But it wasn’t a fucking story — I mean, you should see the first cut of this movie. It’s unwatchable. There was like a 10-minute sequence on building bulletproof glass!

So then how did you wind up shaping the story? Part of it was hiring people who knew more than me. But it’s also training yourself, learning what story means, and that took a long time. I didn’t know what a story was. I got editor Doug Abel to come on, and he knew where the story was immediately. Before I worked with him, I was so obsessed with the visuals: How is this going to play off of that? How are you going to tell a story through the pictures? And he was like, “Fuck all that. First you make the radio edit.” I’ll never forget it. He said, “We’re not going to work with any picture; we’re just going to work with the dialogue.” And that’s the way it worked. We cut out all the pictures and just worked with the dialogue and figured out what dialogue is actually necessary. That was the process.

How long did you work for Errol? I interned for him during the second season of First Person, the entire production of that, and the first year of Fog of War.

Did you ever bring up your interest in making a film to him? The first thing I did was I went to Brazil to visit the frog farm with my dad. It was me and a little DV camera and this gorgeous frog farm. It looked beautiful. I went back to Boston and edited a four-minute video to show Errol, and he loved it. I told him about the ear surgery and he kind of gave his blessing, and I think when I told him I wanted to shoot it on film, that was when he took it seriously. He would give me a lot of advice on production. He told me to go see I Stand Alone, Gaspar Noé’s first feature, which was shot in anamorphic Super 16, and that’s where the idea [to shoot the film in anamorphic] came from. I started doing research on anamorphic. There’s a guy named Joe Dunton based in the U.K. who’s an old friend of Kubrick’s. He designed the anamorphic lenses for 2001. In my research I had found for achieving an anamorphic aspect ratio while shooting Super 16 you had to literally place an anamorphic projector lens in front of the camera lens. The problem is that you have two lenses with two separate focusing elements, which makes it impossible to move the camera and follow focus. Joe Dunton designed a set of lenses to be adapted for Super 16 cameras where you can shoot anamorphic Super 16 and move the camera, and we got them. So I could design all these moving shots and use dollies and cranes and make it actually feel like a real movie. But if I were to start again I would have done interviews in a VariCam. I honestly believe Manda Bala will be the last documentary with interviews shot on film. It’s so hard, cutting every 11 minutes. It’s infuriating, it’s no way to conduct an interview.

Did you have to go through companies in Brazil for crew or equipment? All the equipment aside from the lenses was Brazilian. This is another thing that people don’t understand very much. Brazilian cinema’s not a national cinema that’s producing tons of products that they export every year, but what they do have is a world-class advertising production market. They have the best crews in Latin America, the best equipment in Latin America and the best facilities to deal with one of the biggest commercial advertising markets. Manda Bala would not have been possible without the advertising industry. I started off with a director of photography [Heloísa Passos] whose bread and butter was making commercials, and the ball got rolling from there.

Did you storyboard? Yes. Visually the movie was thought out way before the story. Like the surgery scene — we had someone who shoots surgeries, so we knew everything that could happen before it even started. [We made] a conscious effort to use the visual language of traditional narrative storytelling. In many ways I thought that São Paulo contained many of the visual elements of cities in science fiction films I love. Also, the ways that technology and violence co-exist and often grow together was a central theme of Manda Bala. In order to represent those ideas, the film used those same visual conventions — CinemaScope, helicopter photography, kinetic car chases, stylized surgical procedures — I wanted the aesthetic to imply a world that an audience already knows in fiction but has never seen in a non-fiction film.

How were you able to find your subjects? Each one was a different story. Half of it was luck, coincidence, chance. The frog farmer, [he ran] the biggest frog farm in Brazil, the one that advertises the most. So I went there, and initially it was just going to be a metaphor for this corruption; I had no idea that he actually had any ties to the corrupt politicians. That came out only in the interview. When I was asking him about Jader Barbalho and he said, “I can’t talk about this” — I had no idea I had stumbled into a money-laundering scheme. You can’t film corruption. Corruption is what happens in the back rooms of offices. You can’t film it, you don’t have access to it. What I didn’t realize is that when these frogs are leaving for the United States – and, I mean, it’s impossible for me to prove — but I’m pretty sure we stumbled upon and started filming an actual money-laundering scheme right there.

I would think the hardest interview to get would have to have been the kidnapper. That was the longest one to find. I spent three or four months trying — that’s another long story. There were three phases of production. The second phase of production was when we ran out of money. Lost the last three days because there was an accounting problem and we were $40,000 over budget. I had two more days of filming, plus an interview with a kidnapper set up for the following week. It was set up in a prison; a guy who cut off some fingers [as ransom], and that interview alone was costing over $10,000 in bribes. I went back [to America], cut what we had with Doug Abel, and it didn’t have an ending because we didn’t have the kidnapper. A huge part of the puzzle was missing. We submitted it to the Toronto Film Festival and didn’t get in. It had been three and a half years, we had no money, we had been doing this for a long time, and this wasn’t a movie just to submit to film schools anymore. It had become professional. We thought, If this movie isn’t getting into film festivals, there’s something wrong, and that reaffirmed that it didn’t have an ending. So I ended up spending six or seven months totally broke. It was horrible, I was doing research at MSNBC in Newark on some BTK television documentary. I wanted to kill myself.

How did you then find the kidnapper that you actually interviewed in the film? After I came back to São Paulo for the second time, I learned that we couldn’t go to the jail anymore because there were stories in the papers while we were gone on how corrupt the jails were, so they no longer were being helpful. Pretty much I was screwed because I didn’t have the interview I needed. But my dad knew someone who knew a guy, and he set up a meeting with a kidnapper. We decided to do it, but the kidnapper told us that if his identity was ever revealed he would kill the contact’s family.

Did you have to pay for any other interviews? No. Only with the kidnapper.

Were you ever scared for your safety? Not really, because I didn’t look like I had money, and honestly, the crime is centralized in the slums. If you aren’t high profile you don’t have much to worry about. But there were two times. One was after we interviewed Jader Barbalho. If he had second thoughts about us, it would have been pretty simple to get rid of us. The other was when we interviewed the kidnapper and the cops came. Magrinho usually doesn’t go out in the daytime, but for us he went outside and walked around. Someone saw him and called the cops. His mom yelled to him out a window that they were coming and he ran back inside. Inside he had over a kilo of cocaine, heroine and God knows how many guns. He said something in Portuguese. I thought he said, “Hide my gun,” but what he really said was “Load my gun.” Our contact loaded the gun and gave it to him. His bedroom is his surveillance headquarters. He’s got the whole neighborhood wired for surveillance, he wouldn’t let us film it, but it was unbelievable. So he’s waiting by the door to see if the cops would come. What we didn’t realize until later was the cops weren’t really looking to bust him; they just heard he was out of his house and wanted to pick him up and extort money. The only thing I felt bad about with that situation was what if one of my crew got hit with a stray bullet. It’s one thing if I get hit — this is my film, I understand the dangers — but these guys didn’t sign on for anything life threatening.

And while this was going on, you weren’t filming, right? Well, we hadn’t set up yet — we didn’t have any time.

That must have been a moment where you wished you had shot on video. It would have been amazing to capture, but it really wouldn’t have fit with the rest of the movie.

But it would have made one hell of a DVD extra. Exactly.

Jader Barbalho is one of the major subjects of the film. How did you score an interview with him? It’s interesting, because I was never really interested in talking to him. When I went back [to São Paulo], it was to get an interview with the kidnapper — that was the main focus — but then someone said that this was a propaganda film. It really stuck in my mind, and then I knew I had to try to at least attempt to get in touch with him. All I thought was I’d get him on the phone and ask him the questions, and he’d say, “No comment.” So I had a friend that knew how to get in touch with his second in command. And she started flirting with him and telling him that we are North Americans doing a piece on agriculture, and he said, “You know what? The man you have to speak to is Jader.” So we set up a time and he showed up for an hour. I think he thought this was something to attract foreign inventors. I was nauseous — it was just disgusting. One of the things I remember Errol telling me is that looking straight into the eyes of an evil person can raise people’s expectation for a revelation. But he’s learned the truth about evil people — they are generally evasive and cunning, which can sometimes appear to be anti-climactic. But within that evasion is a truth about the nature of evil.

Did you have more respect for the kidnapper than Jader? You know what? In a way I did. At least the kidnapper tells you straight out that he’s a bad person. Now, don’t get me wrong — he’s killed people and tortured people, so he’s no better, but at least he admitted what he did. He’s dead, you know.

How? He was killed about three months after we interviewed him. I heard that he learned that his drug contact was skimming money off the top, so he killed him. Then the cops found him, there was a shootout and chase, and he was jumping from rooftop to rooftop, City of God–style, and he was wounded by the cops and captured. But when he was brought to the hospital he was dead already with a fresh bullet wound in the head.

The first words we see in the film are “A film that cannot be shown in Brazil.” Do you have any intentions of trying to get it shown there? I’d very much like to show it in São Paulo, but we’ve been threatened with a lawsuit if we distribute there, so as of now we have no means to fight this.

Do you fear for the safety of your family and friends that live in Brazil? I don’t, really. My father and I have talked about that, in fact. He’s a big reason why I did the film, so we knew from the start what doing a film like this could mean. But we aren’t that concerned.

HELOISA PASSOS – Cinematographer
Honoured at Sundance for its cinematography, Manda Bala was shot by woman cinematographer HELOISA PASSOS.

Heloisa Passos was a teenager when she started photographing friends, holiday events and the theater. In 1986, she gave up studying Agronomy looked into film schools, attending her first film workshop in 1988 in Curitiba, Brazil.

Heloisa opened Maquina Productions and directed her first video in 1989. A year later she moved to São Paulo and began working in the film industry as a camera assistant. In 1996, Heloisa began working as a director of photography. Her work includes more than 20 short and feature films including “Brazil Women” by Malu de Martino, “Teen Mothers” by Sandra Werneck, “KFZ-1348” by Gabriel Mascaro and Marcelo Pedroso, “Carranca de Acrilico Azul Piscina” by Karim Aïnouz and Marcelo Gomes, and now MANDA BALA.

Heloisa has been a member of the Cinematographic Brazilian Association since 1999. Her work has been honored with various prizes in festivals both in Brazil and in the United States.

To find out more about Manda Bala view the official site.


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