By Jahmil X.T. Qubeka | Shadow and Act January 6, 2014 at 2:31PM
Either directly or cloaked, my work is a reflection of the universe that I inhabit. As an indigenous young African, I find myself confronted by a world in constant flux; it is so unrelenting that it can’t help but inform my chosen reality. Trying to swim in the sociopolitical tide that is globalization. What does a day-dreaming, rural African boy hold on to? His unclear yet colonised past? His passive-aggressive present? Or does he set sail towards an uncharted but highly anticipated future?
I got into commercials as a way to understand the technical craft of filmmaking. I did not go to film school. After wetting my feet with documentaries, I just wasn’t satisfied that I was being exposed to the science of it all. Through commercials I got to experiment with animation, compositing, CGI, etc which vastly expanded my knowledge of the craft. For me all roads end at cinema. It’s the ultimate tool of expression. I love the idea that one can embed a fable with all manner of social and political commentary without being too committal.
I have been a filmmaker for 13 years now. In that time I have had to sweat blood to get to where I am now. I am not an overnight success. That means I have charted a particular course. Yes, along the way I will deviate but I know where the hell I am going. I intend to make at least fifty quality pictures before I die. That is my mission. That dream, that goal, cannot change if I am to achieve true narcissistic happiness. I don’t intend to revisit the same material twice (barring the ‘Of Good Report’ sequel, which I would like to make in about fifteen years’ time). That’s why I love Kubrik so much. He has never ever made the same film twice.
I have a very special place in my heart for the work of Sam Peckinpah. I love him so much because he was evidently flawed, both as a filmmaker and as a human being. He was an outlaw in the truest sense. He wore his heart on his sleeve and lived through his films. I can only be in awe of such an unapologetic and visceral cinematic voice.
The young Oliver Stone of the mid 80’s and early 90’s could do no wrong in my eyes. His body of work was so consistently strong and evocative both as a director and writer. For me he was a Celluloid God who could do no wrong. Mind you, his work floundered massively once he got off the drugs and cleaned up!
The unfortunate thing is that filmmaking is such an expensive medium that the margin for error is not very high. Because of my lack of formal film education I have learned the craft through the process of making my own films. I have made many mistakes and will continuously strive to better myself as a human being as well as an artist. The weight of expectation does not affect me at all. I know why I chose this path. I am more than happy to make mistakes along the way; every time I do, I grow because I allow myself to learn from those errors. It’s like Voltron, I graduate to a higher level every time I pick up the pieces from a previous error. Mistakes can either break you or if you let them, they will help you grow…
We make films in order for them to be seen. We want them to be scrutinized, debated and analysed. Love them or hate them, we yearn for scrutiny. Regarding my previous work, I have always felt that I had yet to hit the narrative mark regarding what my intentions were. So when none of those films got the traction or visibility I craved, I took that as a personal challenge that I had to overcome. I am more than aware of the shortcomings of my work than anybody else, so when I fail to hit the mark creatively, I look to myself first before blaming my film’s lack of visibility on outside influences. Having said that, I also do feel that the current African cinema going model is archaic and out of touch with the times. The corporate cinema chains have no interest in nurturing the African film industry. They take their orders from their global masters and continue to flood our screens with mundane American crap.
Regarding the look and the feel of my latest film, I chose a monochrome Black & White palette. The Black and White aesthetic is a crucial element in the design and construct of the project. It is a necessary fabric of the whole. Without it, there would be no picture. The texture of the narrative was always vivid in my mind. My favourite Black and White movie has got to be Kobayashi’s ‘Hari Kiri!’What a timeless classic. They tried to remake it recently in color and it didn’t quite work. My cinematography references consisted of diverse classics such as Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera to White Heat, Citizen Kane, Cape Fear (both versions), Psycho, John Farrow’, The Big Clock, The Third Man even the work of noir legend Arthur Pennhad a big impact on some of the choices I made. More recently, Kenneth Branagh’s Dead Again made me fall in love with the monochrome look all over again, even though he was noncommittal by shooting half the picture in colour. Marc Singer’s ‘Dark Days’ as well a Charles Burnette’s ‘The Killer Of Sheep’reminded me of just how raw and vivid Black and White can be! What Martin Scorsese achieved with Raging Bull gave me the conviction to stick to my aesthetic choice.
With regards to what inspired me to tell this particular story? I believe men have been at war with the female since time in memorial. We need to get to grips with why we hate women so much. Anyone who disagrees with this view needs to just pick up a paper and you will see what I am talking about. This is the one crime that transcends economics (OJ Simpson, Phil Spector), race (Oscar Pistorius), and creed.
I chose to have a somewhat complicated and relatively unlikeable protagonist because I believe if you want real insight on any given crime, ask the perpetrator and not the victim. He or she is the only person who can tell you why they did it. We know what happened to the victim, we see it everyday in the papers and on our idiot boxes. We will never get to grips with gender-based violence if we are not willing to analyse and study those who commit these crimes. The film is told from the Wolf’s perspective because we are curious to know why he is the way he is. I am not glorifying or advocating misogyny. I am saying we need to understand its origins in order to deal with its effects. As for him getting away with it, that is a reflection of the failure of our justice system. Criminals get away with it all the time, why is portraying it in a film deemed to be some kind of advocacy for criminals when the reality supports this perspective?
For the future, I have about ten films in development. Unfortunately, I can only make one at a time. I am pretty annoyed about that. However, the one that is closest to my heart is called ‘First Man’. It’s an adventure odyssey set 50 000 years ago about a troupe of Khoi San women who embark on an arduous journey to find their missing spouses. I can say no more. Speak to you in two years’ time when the film is ready for presentation.Jahmil X.T. Qubeka is an unrefined, uncouth Alchemy apprentice who occasionally dabbles in motion picture production.
Originally published on Media Diversified - a non profit organisation which provides a space for writers of color who have been unable to break in to the mainstream or have been marginalized, to publish their work. The organisation's aim is to help writers and journalists of color be published in national newspapers, magazines and get their voices heard in the broadcast media.