Film director Koos Roets has been a formidable figure in South Africa’s film
industry for 51 years and he still has the energy, passion and drive of which
younger filmmakers dream. Recently, just after completing Faan se Trein, a film
based on Afrikaans dramatist Pieter Fourie’s stage play with the same title,
Roets immediately started filming a new TV series for kykNET, Pandjieswinkel,
written by dramatist PG du Plessis.
During his career Koos Roets has been involved in more than 150 productions as
director of photography, director, scriptwriter or producer and his name has
featured 35 times among the nominees of various awards of which he’s won a
total of 33.
YOUR CAREER STARTED IN 1962 AS AN ASSISTANT DoP WITH JAMIE UYS’
LORD OOM PIET. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE ON A CAREER AS A FILMMAKER?
The actor Frank Opperman’s father was in an orphanage in Bethlehem and my
father was the boarding master. Frank’s father, who was a few years older than
me, one day poured some water into an old electric bulb and projected various
patterns on a piece of white paper. It fascinated me endlessly and I started to
build my own projectors and drew comic strips on old pieces of transparent
The orphans had no choice but to look at the ’shows”. At first it wasn’t popular
but the attendance improved later when my mother started handing out fudge. I
found out quite early how fickle moviegoers can be.
At the end of standard five my Aunt Katie gave me one pound and a man who
worked for us, persuaded me to bet on a horserace. The horse, Malicious Pride,
won and I had enough money to buy my first Kodak Brownie 8mm camera. This
led to my friend Douglas Hitchcock and I starting Bosveld Film Productions,
writing short stories and making movies. I still have the camera.
We later filmed the town’s weddings and funerals and in that way made enough
money to buy a 16mm sound projector and to hold shows in the town hall. After
standard five we moved to Kestell but there was no bioscope. Therefore I had
no other choice than to become a filmmaker.
HOW HAS THE INDUSTRY CHANGED?
The industry has changed tremendously and there is much less enthusiasm
compared to when I started. For instance, we worked on Jans Rautenbach’s
Jannie Totsiens for/in 18-hour shifts seven days a week. No one dared to
complain. Sandra Kotze and Jaques Loots (they played the leads) were
responsible for props, costumes and production!
When you weren’t busy with your own work on set, you just had to assist in
set-painting or work at editing. I believe we have today undoubtedly the best
film crews in the world. I worked for a long time in Australia but they are in no
way in the same class as us. However, for most of the people in our local
industry it is in the first place an occupation and not a passion as such.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING PROJECT IN YOUR CAREER?
The time I spent is Australia. They felt threatened by this guy from South Africa
and when I got the top job in the TV industry, the fat was in the fire! I at least
received my ACS (Australian Cinematographers Society) accreditation. My
number was 270, which means that I was only the 270th person who could
write ACS behind my name. This is out of a membership of thousands dating
back to the 1950s.
WHAT ARE THE SHORTCOMINGS TODAY IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN FILM
AND TV INDUSTRY?
There is a tremendous shortage of script writers and that is our biggest
problem. Good writers DO NOT NECESSARILY make good script writers! This is
the main reason why a lot of films fall flat. Jamie Uys was undoubtedly our
biggest film producer after Jans Rautenbach. He could write a script and his films
achieved international success even though they were technically very poor!
IF YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BEST WORK TO DATE?
I think Faan se Trein is possibly my best work because it has been a passion for
more than 40 years.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER PROJECTS IN THE PIPELINE?
I’ve got at least 15 scripts which are completed and waiting. Any one of them
can go into production tomorrow of which Jean Goosen’s Pawpaw vir my Darling
is hopefully one. Helena Spring also spoke to me about another possible PG du
WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON THE CURRENT TREND OF AFRIKAANS MUSICALS
I’m not mad about musicals. The previous lot out of the Tommie Meyer era sank
the whole industry. Today’s productions are a repeat of the years of Kavalier
Films! Jans Rautenbach just started making internationally acceptable films like
Jannie Totsiens and Die Kandidaat when musicals flooded the market and
corrupted viewers’ tastes. It pulled the industry into the mud.
It took movies like Paljas and even Roepman 20 years to educate the Afrikaans
public again. Musicals do have a place, but then with good actors who can give
credit to them as far as ACTING and singing is concerned!