Carey McKenzie came to national prominence recently with the premiere of her
noir thriller Cold Harbour at the Durban International Film Festival.
Cold Harbour is her first feature but she already has a string of
short films and documentaries behind her, including the acclaimed Original
Child Bomb, an investigation of the aftermath of the bombings of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW HAS THIS SHAPED YOU AS A
I studied English Literature, then Film and directed a lot of theatre while I was a
student. Theatre was a great way to get to grips with discovering the dramatic
beats in a script and to get comfortable with actors. Though I’m primarily a visual
person, I consider the most important part of the director’s job to be eliciting
strong performances from the cast and collaborating with them to tell the story.
WHICH FILMS AND FILMMAKERS FIRST INSPIRED YOU TO WORK IN THIS
MEDIUM AND WHY?
There were a handful of films in the early 80s which made an enormous
impression on me as a young teen living under apartheid. In these films an
emotionally affecting human story is set against social upheaval or repression.
Peter Weir (The Year of Living Dangerously), Roland Joffe (The
Killing Fields), Hector Barbenco (Kiss of the Spiderwoman),
Alan Parker (Midnight Express, Birdy). By the time Spike Lee’s
Do the Right Thing hit the screens I was already committed to being
a filmmaker, but he showed me how to do something meaningful at a price.
Lasting inspiration has also come from:
Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, The
Godfather), Alan Pakula (Parallax View), Martin Scorcese
(Raging Bull, Goodfellas), Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the
Lambs), Wim Wenders (
(The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris), Federico Fellini (La
Dolce Vita), Michelangelo Antonioni (Blow Up, L’Aventura).
AS A STORYTELLER, WHERE DO YOU FIND YOU GET MOST OF YOUR
From people, from life, from the world.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR VISUAL SENSE/ STYLE?
I try to direct the camera in a way that serves the story and doesn’t call
attention to itself. As a result I generally prefer motivated camera movement.
Lighting-wise though I’m all about being bold. My cinematographic heroes are
Gordon Willis, Vittorio Storaro and Chris Doyle.
WHO HAVE YOUR MENTORS BEEN IN THE PROCESS OF LEARNING AND
DEVELOPING YOUR CRAFT?
Boris Frumin – a Russian director who emigrated to New York in the 90s and
teaches directing at NYU grad film. His highest praise, applied to any onscreen
element, is something I keep striving to earn: “strange, lyrical, never before
seen on film’.
Marten Rabarts – former creative director of the Binger Film Lab. Marten has
extraordinarily good taste, and the ability to be critical while still making you feel
that he has faith in your talent. He played an essential role in the development
and editing of Cold Harbour.
DESCRIBE A DEFINING MOMENT IN YOUR CAREER.
First day on set of my first feature film. We immediately embarked on an
enormous into-the-kitchen, Goodfellas style developing shot and
miraculously it worked. Thanks to the unshakeable skills of DP Shane Daly and
AD Simon Damast. I was nervous but also really happy. It was a relief to
discover, when I finally got there, that I really do love it.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE SOUTH AFRICAN FILM OF THE PAST TEN
YEARS AND WHY?
District 9 for style, sociopolitical subtext and inspired, cross-genre story telling.
WHAT DO YOU FEEL NEEDS TO CHANGE IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN FILM
In my very humble opinion…. we need a greater variety of development funding
sources, independent script editors, a national broadcaster that encourages
international sales on commissioned works (and can thus raise budgets) and a
commitment from funders, crew agents and employers to tackle gender
discrimination at all levels of the industry. We also need a conscious,
constructive engagement with film critics in all media to help us attract local
audiences for a greater variety of local films.
Further to this last idea – local films depend on press as a primary source of
publicity. There’s an understandable resistance from critics and audiences to
foreign names in South African roles, but not enough audience support for local
names. Certainly we as filmmakers need to earn the trust of our audience by
making better films, but we need the critics’ help to get them into cinemas.
As things stand it seems that art house films (Skoonheid, Of Good
Report) are what get the best foreign festival play, while Afrikaans rom-
coms and broad comedy are pretty much the only local fare the SA audience
buys. Why spend your hard earned rands on seeing a low-budget South African
thriller / action / period piece when you can enjoy an American one with a
massive budget and matching production values? We need a compelling answer
for that question.
IF YOU WERE GIVEN A BLANK CHEQUE TO MAKE THE FILM OF YOUR
DREAMS, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Waiting for the Barbarians, based on the novel by JM Coetzee.
Someone has the option, I’m sure. If not I’ve just reminded them to go after it.
At one point it was held by Sean Penn.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
Cash – a thriller about a woman executive who turns whistleblower
to expose human trafficking in the food industry – currently at screenplay stage.