SxSW ’10 Interview – “On The Other Side of Life” director Stefanie Brockhaus
By Jason Whyte
Posted 03/10/10 05:42:00
“Two township kids involved in crime, hung up on drugs and with no job in sight go to the bush to undertake an African Initiation ritual to become men.” Director Stefanie Brockhaus on the film “On The Other Side of Life” which screens at this year’s South By Southwest Film.
Is this your first film in SxSW? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to be in Austin for the screenings?
We had a Sneak Preview at True/False a couple of weeks ago where the film received incredible attention and great interest from the audience. We (co-director Andy Wolff & myself) will both be in Austin for the screenings.
Could you give me a little look into your background (your own personal biography, if you will), and what led you to the desire to want to make film?
I am interested in what is happening in our lives and why. In a film I can tell personal stories and draw wider attention to social and historical events that shape us as people through somebody's experience. In film I can explore human behavior in all shapes and play around with it. Eventually an audience can connect with a character, though their lives might be far apart.
Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!
I wasn't that determined. Never had a clue.
How did this whole project come together?
We've both made a few shorts, then workd for TV on a commissioned documentary in South Africa. From the money we earned, we bought our first equipment and started to work on our own film. The story evolved by visiting the townships and developing a fascination with that life so few white people no about.
What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?
Getting into the prison with a camera was pretty difficult from a producers side. But personal issues with the protagonists were much tougher, as they affected us personally on an emotional level. We have a close relationship with Lucky and Bongani and feel a little bit responsible that they will live their lives in peace.
Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.
Our team consists of Andy and me. We used a Panasonic P2 HVX 200 camera, a boom microphone and a radio microphone. Since we both like doing the cinematography, we took turns, though there were certain days in the bush were I wasn't allowed near the boys, which Andy filmed by himself. The approach to filming was that we wanted to be close to the protagonists and always try and capture their reactions, behavior and emotions, when possible. We did handheld with a DVD rig. We had to be flexible, as they move around quickly.
Talk a bit about the experiences (festival or non-festival) that you have had with this particular film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings? If this is your first screening premiere, what do you hope to expect at the screenings of the film?
Both protagonists were present for the premier of the film at DOKLeipzig in Germany. In total we presented the film four times with Lucky and Bongani in front of 300 people. Each screening was different, but because the boys could answer directly and give insights from their own experiences it was very lively, emotional, funny, serious and blunt. We faced some difficult questions regarding the killing, but also a lot of compliments and great interest.
For the screenings at SXSW I hope to have interesting questions about documentary filmmaking, the struggles and greatnesses of this genre, rather then technical questions about equipment and so forth.
Who would you say is “the audience” for this film? Do you want to reach everyone possible or any particular type of filmgoer?
I thought this film would only attract a younger audience, but we had screenings with 40-60 year old people and they were just as moved and interested in the story. So I'll be curious as to who is coming. I welcome everybody.
Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?
Almost every film inspires me in one way or the other. It depends more on where I am at personally at the moment and less on the director or genre.
How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?
I see myself as an independent filmmaker working in documentary and exploring fiction filmmaking.
If you weren’t in this profession, what other line of work do think you would be involved with?
Pottery. I will do this when I am old.
How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?
I think it's important that critics write about difficult films to promote them. A lot of people shape their opinion through reading an article or are encouraged to go and see a film if they read about it. Otherwise people will only get to see films with a big marketing strategy and won't be aware of other work.
If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?
It's great to have a film shown in best quality, but actually I think I don't care about the cinema. In Africa they screen films on trucks and everybody gathers to watch outdoors. That's beautiful.
What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?
This film will stay with you for a long time, because it will not just entertain you but also make you feel alive.
What do you love the most about this business of making movies?
Filmmaking is adventurous. I am free, I explore new themes all the time, travel and meet very interesting people.
No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?
Starting is always the hardest and finishing it. Stick to your idea, continue and never finish to early. Most important finish it. The rest happens by itself.
This is one of the many films screening at this year’s South By Southwest Film in Austin, Texas between March 12-20. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com