FILM DIRECTORS SPEAK: Michael MacGarry

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Michael MacGarry

Adroit overachiever, Michael MacGarry is an award-winning filmmaker, visual artist and commercials director. He creates sculptures, films, installations and photographs which are designed to question systemic paradigms: sovereign nationality; logics of making and meaning; power relations; notions of value; equity and progress; as well as the relationship between industrial technology and African resources.

He has been researching narratives and histories of socioeconomics, politics, forms and objects within the context of contemporary Africa for more than a decade.

In his filmmaking and photographic work these macro concerns often take the form of micro narratives, personal memory and subtle identity politics in spaces where contemporary life is in a state of invention and flux. He has written and directed seven short films, and has exhibited internationally for more than 10 years at the likes of the Tate Modern, Guggenheim Bilbao and currently at Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg.

WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW HAS THIS SHAPED YOU AS A DIRECTOR?

I grew up in Durban where I completed an Honours Degree in Fine Art, I then moved to Dublin, Ireland where I worked as a graphic designer – the plan was to afford tuition fees for a Master’s Degree at Glasgow School of Art. I moved instead to London, continuing to work as a designer, and lived there for a couple of years before moving to Johannesburg to complete a Masters in Fine Art at Wits University.

During my time in Europe I made a series of books and wrote extensive film scripts of future film and visual art projects. This strategy developed into a dogma called ‘All Theory. No Practice.’ whereby I stopped physically making any artworks at all. Instead I published books and online via alltheorynopractice.com. This approach was initially very useful but over time became a serious hindrance to growing as an artist. Consequently, I began making the short films and film ideas I had been writing and thinking about for numerous years. I have so far made 12 of these films, video installations and animations. As these various film projects have grown in audience, production value and scale I have been able to work as a director of TV commercials in the South African film industry, something I have been doing for four years.

DESCRIBE THE MOMENT YOU DECIDED TO BECOME A DIRECTOR?

I can’t recall a singular moment; it has been a steady process from about my mid-teens. I have never been to film school, but have instead obsessed about films in my own way – how you practically make them and what the medium can really create and mean – more or less consistently from about that time in my life onwards.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?

My work as both a filmmaker and a visual artist is focused on investigating the politics of socio-economics in several African countries right now, as well as projecting into the near future.  As such, I find the work itself to be a driving force, an inspiration of sorts – studying contemporary life in places like Angola and Nigeria, in addition to South Africa, provides an unrelenting torrent of information, ideas and connections that feed into new work.

DO YOU HAVE ANY MENTORS?

Filmmakers Abderrahmane Sissako and Michelangelo Antonioni.

WHO IN THE INDUSTRY WOULD YOU REALLY LIKE TO WORK WITH?

Actor Ntare Mwine.

WHAT ARE YOUR PERSONAL CAREER MILESTONES?

Managing multiple careers and ongoing tertiary studies have, and continue to be, meaningful milestones.

WHICH PROJECTS ARE YOU CURRENTLY INVOLVED IN?

I currently have a solo exhibition titled Between Rot and Genesis at Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg until 20 August 2016, as well as numerous film festival screenings and museum shows this year in Europe, South America, USA and Israel; I am engaged in a PhD in Philosophy at Wits University; I am completing writing a feature film titled Show No Pain that is an adaptation of a short film I made in Angola in 2014, titled Excuse me, while I disappear. scheduled to shoot in November this year; I am developing a touring exhibition programme with a colleague in Berlin focused on visual art and filmic responses to China’s growing presence in sub-Saharan Africa scheduled for 2017-18; and pitching on TV commercial work with production company Bouffant.

DO YOU PREFER FILMS OR EXHIBITIONS?

In addition to film festivals and programmes, my films are often screened as part of my solo and group exhibitions, so both means of display and making are great.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR PROUDEST MOMENT AS A DIRECTOR?

Not so much a single moment, rather being able to make seven short films with total freedom and space to genuinely experiment has been a memorable, collective achievement I guess.

IF YOU COULD PRODUCE AN AFRICAN VERSION OF A HOLLYWOOD CLASSIC, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

The Crowd, 1928.

WHAT OR WHERE IS YOUR HAPPY PLACE?

With my son, Max.

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Cera-Jane Catton
Cera-Jane Catton is a writer and journalist with years of experience in community newspapers, blogging and freelance journalism. She has worked in a cache of capacities, often finding herself behind or in front of the cameras, intentionally and less so. She has been a stunt double in two Bollywood movies, has worked in various capacities on a number of natural history documentaries, and other international productions shot in South Africa. Cera is a former Screen Africa journalist.

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