Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with Cape Town-born director Oliver Schmitz, whose film Life, Above All is receiving worldwide recognition
Tell me about Life Above All, how did you get involved in the project? What attracted you to direct the film?
The producer Oliver Stoltz brought me the Novel CHANDAS SECRET'S about two years ago to look at. I was busy and it took a while till I picked it up, but when I did I could not put it down until I'd finished it. It was one of the most moving acounts of a mother daughter relationship that I had ever read, it affected me intensely and I wanted to make a movie out of it. The fact that there are other important issues in the film, that came second, at the heart it was the emotional story that grabbed me and the perspective, to tell it through the eyes of a young gilr in Southern Africa who was coming of age. A lot about the story is about understanding things that are incomprehensible, and what better way than through the innocent eyes of a young person still embarking on life's journey.
You are fascinated by the idea of "telling a story about how people deal with "open" secrets. Tell me about this?
Well the story is through the eyes of a young girl. She slowly starts to understand the web of lies around her. She also starts to understand that the world of adults is to some extent incomprehensible. Her point of view, unfiltered by fear or vested interests exposes the lies that keeps her community moving from one crisis to another. Everyone is scared of admitting they are affected by the pandemic in some way, she is teh catalyst that brings out into the open what no one wants to speak about. Often only a child becoming an adult can sense in such a pure way the hypocrisy with which we surround ourselves.
It is an important and socially relevant story to tell, do you agree?
My main objective was to make a powerful, emotionally moving story. The social ramifications of the story are huge. I am not trying to preach though and am very wary of doing so.
You enjoy telling stories that involve children, tell me about this?
I have never worked so extensively with children before. It was a great pleasure. They are very open and curious. I have a daughter aged 7, I think this helped me understand the children in the film and find a common language with them.
Was it a difficult film to make?
It was a pleasure, esprecially as the actors so so spot on. Like every project there were logistical considerations, weather issues, there is never enough time etc. But this is all normal. Two of teh adult actors had to lose weight before and then put it on again in our second shooting phase for the beginning of the film where they are healthy, this required discipline on their behalf and careful planning. Difficult films are the ones that don't quite gell, therefore I feel, this was not a difficult shoot!
Do you find that it helps to be living outside South Africa to tell a story about the country you were born in?
Thee is no better way. I am working in Germany because it gives me a steady flow of work and its been a priviledge to get so far in the German film and television industry and have made the stuff I have made here. I feel, rather thet when I come home that I pick up where I left off. I do feel an outside perspective is useful sometimes, to see the bigger picture though.
If you had to grow up in South Africa today, do you think your approach as a filmmaker would have been different?
Hard to say. Growing up in Apartheid and facing questions about whether one did everything possible to fight this evil system is a life forming experience. I envy the innocence of teh young generation, like the young actors in the movie. It was refreshing for me that they had no fear or hang ups about me. A few generations back it would have been different, understandably.
Where did it start for you, that moment you knew that you were going to be a filmmaker?
IN 1977 when I was at school and I went to the first Cape Town INternational Film Festival. It was an eye opener to world cinema, an uncensored view. Films were cut to pieces by the censor board in teh cinemas and here were bold, revolutionary and artistic statements. It blew me away.
What inspires you as a filmmaker?
Good scripts with complex characters that undergo a journey and that takes me with them emotionally.
What excites you about film?
The ability to tell a whole lifetime in two hours.
Your view on the South African film industry?
Its growing, developing, with an incredidle number of prejects in the making and development. I am impressed.
What do you hope South African audiences will get from watching the film?
I never want to preach to an audience, that is why my films tend to be subtle and open-ended, I do believe in positive energy, redemption and in the case of LIFE ABOVE ALL , the possibility of a brighter future for the characters. That is why the film ends the way it does. I want audiences not only to walk away affected but empowered.
Your current/ future project?
"Russiandisko" based on the book by Wladimir Kaminer. Shooting starts beg. March in Berlin.
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