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SA filmmaker gives us the scoop on his trip to Cannes

2015-05-25 13:40

Cape Town – We recently had the opportunity to chat to local writer and producer, Sallas De Jager, about his 68th Cannes Film Festival experience.

Sallas, writer and producer of films such as Roepman, Verraaiers and Musiek vir die Agtergrond, attended the Cannes Film Festival last week where he screened his latest project, Free State.

Free State, which was filmed in Laudium, Fordsburg in Johannesburg, Memel in the Free State and Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal, tells the story about Jeanette, played by SA model and actress Nicola Breytenbach, a soon to be engaged Afrikaans girl, who falls in love with a carefree Indian man in 1970s South Africa, when it was against the law to have inter-racial relationships.

The movie, which also features Bollywood star Mangesh Desai, Deon Lotz, Bobby van Jaarsveld and Sarafina star Leleti Khumalo, is set for release in April 2016.

We chat to Sallas about his Cannes experience, how Free State was received and the South African film industry.

Was it your first time attending the Cannes film festival and what was the experience like?

It was my second time at the festival. The first time I went was in 2012 and it was really overwhelming. Cannes is bigger and better than anything I've seen before and I think the best lesson learned on one's first trip is understanding where you are at the time and knowing where you could be and could end up if you are prepared to listen and learn and go back home and work harder.

It can be a very inspirational experience or a very demoralising one at the same time, because the moment you walk into the market and you see for the first time how many films are made in the world, you can't help to almost immediately realise you have a long way to go. It is a lot to take in, however you quickly learn how things get done and the second time around you arrive prepared and ready to take your work to world.

What was the most important thing you learned there?  

I think for me the biggest lesson learned is to see how big the film industry really is. To me it is very inspiring to see what is possible and I have new found respect for the achievements of my heroes, be it screenwriters, directors or actors to rise through all these millions of people who are involved in film and to become known for what they do. It is truly remarkable.

What was the response to your new film Free State?

We had a very positive response from international sales agents and based on our face-to-face meeting with these agents during Cannes, we are please to say we are currently in negotiations with six major sales agents who are all interested to buy the worldwide distribution rights to our movie. If all goes well we should be able to sign with one of these agents by early July.

Sallas and Leleti Khumalo on the set of Free State. (Photo: Jo Spies)

How did people respond to other SA films screened at Cannes?

As far as I know there was positive feedback and response to most of the South African projects. We are all slowly but surely starting to find our feet at Cannes and it's good to see that more and more South African films get picked up at the market every year.

After attending a film festival like Cannes, do you think SA’s film industry is far behind in terms of the rest of the world? If so, where do we lack the most and what do you think can be done to change it?

Firstly it is clear that our movies are technically up to standard with what is made in the rest of the world. Our biggest challenge is to think a little bigger and we definitely also need to learn how to package our films better for an international audience. We are very focused on our local market which is in fact very small in comparison to most countries, but the truth is most local filmmakers watch international films and TV shows as references or inspiration for their own projects.

The obvious thing then is to ask ourselves, why do films set in countries or cities we have never been to and probably will never see appeal to us?  The answer is simple, it is packaged in a way that makes it accessible to a global audience and the universal theme is clearly articulated within this package.  If we start doing the same with the development and marketing of South African films instead of only aiming it at our local audience our industry will move forward with giant leaps.    

Did you spot or meet any famous people?  

I saw a few stars from a distance and was very lucky to attend the launch party of Arabian Nights. The film went on to win one of the prestigious prizes at the festival.  It was a crazy party!

Read more on:    good news  |  free state  |  south african film  |  movies

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