25 January 2013

Namibia: The Indomitable Indie

PERIVI Katjavivi is as cool as his films. He sits in Spur in an immaculate black T-shirt, quietly pushes back his horn-rimmed glasses and sips on a milkshake as if he's smoking a quick cigarette before Humphrey Bogart sidles over, lisping and Bryllcreemed into oblivion, and says "Here's looking at you, kid."

Though imaginary Humphrey dissolves moodily into the hot Windhoek air as I rush up to the young writer-director and apologise for being late, his immortal words are apt in terms of the local and international juries sitting up and taking notice of Namibia's newest indie filmmaker.

Like anyone worth their weight in low-budget gold, Katjavivi's 'My Beautiful Nightmare' (2012) went through the kind of rejection from funders, destitute development and shooting in sub-zero temperatures that would make Benh Zeitlin weep.

However, in a spectacular display of indomitable creative spirit replete with a big screw you to the Powers Who Didn't Want It to Be, Katjavivi's penniless, poignant and peculiar film has gone on to win a special recognition award at the Silicon Valley African film festival in New York, is heading to Luxor African film festival in Egypt in March and won the coveted Best Actress award for first time actress, Sheena Schwartz, at the Namibian film Awards last November.

Katjavivi added to these accolades by being nominated for Best film and Best Director and in light of this success, the surprisingly soft-spoken cinema man is taking a hiatus from the realm of short film to focus on developing a fantasy feature.

"At the moment I'm working on two feature length films; one is a contempary African tale based on the ancient Greek myth of Icarus and the other is a post-apocalyptic fantasy adventure currently called 'The Dream Collector', says Katjavivi confidently.

"I wrote both of them and will direct both of them and I'm heading to the Berlinale to network and attempt to find investors for 'The Dream Collector' next month."

Upon his return from the Berlin International film festival, Katjavivi will have his eye on Egypt where 'My Beautiful Nightmare' will compete against some of Africa's best short films in the second annual Luxor African film festival.

This will be his second screening at the festival after his two films 'Eembwiti' (2011) and 'Love Is' (2009) were presented to audiences there last year.

"I'm very excited about having another film in that festival because it's a very different audience and market to be exposed to," says Katjavivi. "for the most part Namibian films are shown in Windhoek, South Africa and our region but we know very little about middle and greater African audiences and they know very little about us.

I think it's great that Luxor is opening up that dialogue. I think many of us think of Egypt as essentially the Middle East and part of the Arab world rather than being Africa but they are Africa and they very interested in us and we are very interested in them."

What Luxor must find interesting about Katjavivi is his ability to tell seemingly melancholic stories with an air of subtlety and beauty that makes their grim subject matter palatable and even poignant.

With 'My Beautiful Nightmare' zooming in on a day and night in a young prostitute's life, the subject matter isn't particularly original but grows wings in its delicate almost quixotic direction and in the passionate silent performance of Sheena Schwartz whose only voice is non-diegetic.

"I tried to take a minimalist approach and I didn't want to have any dialogue unless it served the story and the character. I like the idea of trying to tell a story using mostly visual elements which is what the medium is there for," says Katjavivi.

"I really can't take credit for Sheena's performance. She was very dedicated and meticulous and she went out of her way to develop movements and facial expressions that would be consistent with the character. I was filming so I was often caught up with that more than her performance but luckily I didn't need to be because she was so convincing and so natural."

The story goes on that Schwartz wins a Best Actress Namibian film Award for her debut performance and Katjavivi is nominated for Best Director for a film with no means or motivation from funders.

"It was definitely a joy to shoot something like this on our time, on our own terms and I think that allowed us a certain amount of freedom and experimentation. I hope it encourages people to try more 'independent' films here in Namibia, and to experiment and break boundaries. I certainly learnt a lot," says Katjavivi.

"The relative success of this film is testimony to the fact that we had a crew that was dedicated and made all sorts of sacrifices. I loved that we could share the idea that we want to make movies in this country and we will make them no matter what, whether we have funds available or not. We will find a way."

No doubt a way that leads to awards in New York and accolades in your own country is one to consider, and will most certainly inspire a wave of indigent imagineers looking to show the world the most elegant and emotive pieces of their own beautiful nightmares.

Catch 'My Beautiful Nightmare' if you happen to be in Luxor circa March 15 and 24, and be sure to buy the good director a drink if you see him on the scene in a toast to his recent success and his birthday this week.

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