SA filmmakers continue to be recognised in the continent, with Gugu & Andile winning 3 awards at the Africa Movie Academy Awards in Nigeria last month (April). We speak to the director Minky Schlesinger about making the movie and her view on the SA film industry.

Gugu & Andile's, Litha Booi
Your 90 minute feature film Gugu & Andile walked away with awards at the AMAA � this isiZulu and isiXhosa film seems to have put you into the spotlight yet again as you�ve won several awards in the past?

�For this film we were nominated in 10 categories, and won 3 of them - Best Film in an African Language, Most Promising Actor (Litha Booi) and Most Promising Actress (Lungelo Dhladha). For me, past experience has shown that there are no limits as to where a film might go, if one puts enough effort and imagination into it.

�We had hoped to do well but I can�t say I expected it. Fortunately, the AMAA jury included people like Keith Shiri (Director of the LondonAfrican Film Festival),  Dorothee Wenner (Programmer for Berlin International Film Festival),  Ayoku Babu and Asantewa Olatunji (Los Angeles Pan African Film Festival) and Dr. Hyginus Ekwuazi (Pioneer Consulting Director of the National Film Institute in Nigeria ), who liked Gugu & Andile,� she says.

Schlesinger�s awards go back to the 1990s, when the documentary We�ve Got the Power! won Music Documentary of the Year at Cannes MIDEM. Around the same time, her series on township jazz Our Kind of Jazz won a Star Tonight Award. Her first short drama Salvation was one of the winners on M-Net�s New Directions and selected for numerous festivals. More recently, the drama series Home Affairs (on which she shares the writing and directing) has been nominated twice for International Emmys, selected at BANFF and received an Honourable Mention at the Rose d�Or. Other than the AMAAs, Gugu & Andile was selected for the competition at FESPACO 2009.

So what�s her opinion of the South African film industry? �The local industry seems to be on the cusp of good things - certainly there�s international interest in local stories - but there are important issues we need to confront. I feel that energy and resources are often expended in the wrong places. A good film starts with a good script, and writing has been sadly neglected.�

She believes there�s an unfortunate myth prevailing locally � that anyone with a big idea can write a film. She sees screenwriting as a craft that takes time and practice. Ironically, she says, the local industry often chases the flavour of the month, whether they be writers, directors, or DoPs.

�Until the huge fund of experience available in this country is properly valued and exploited, and used to transfer skills to younger players, we can�t expect to mature as an industry. At this point, I believe we should be focussing on great stories and excellent performances - elements that are achievable in spite of low budgets. Sometimes it seems that too much emphasis is placed on the technical aspects of filmmaking, and the story gets left behind,� Schlesinger comments.

Gugu & Andile's, Lungeo Dhladhla
When she made Gugu & Andile, she faced the usual type of hindrances, including inadequate funding. The stretched budget meant that the team had to forgo the shooting format they wanted, had insufficient lights, and were short on crew, among other essentials. Even both her producers on the film, Bridget Pickering and Neil Brandt, came on as extras. (Bridget doesn�t appear in the film, but Neil features as a member of the Security Forces).

Weather challenges also interfered heavily as close to 60% of the film�s exterior shots were impacted by continuous down pours. �We ended up working 6 days a week almost throughout, which wasn�t great for the crew. The entire 6 week schedule was shot in Thokoza and this brought further challenges: two hours extra on the 12-hour day for travelling, noisy crowds gathering and watching every take. It was tough, but a huge adventure.�

Commenting on her cast, Schlesinger says: �Lungelo Dhladhla and Litha Booi are two of the most intelligent, dedicated and talented young actors I�ve had the pleasure to work with.�

Gugu & Andile was the first role for Dhladhla, who is a student at AFDA, specialising in production design and doing some acting on the side. Schlesinger describes her �as an instinctive performer with surprising resources for someone so young, and she is going to do great things.� Schlesinger views Booi as being �a little more experienced, but also at the beginning of his career. As an actor, he has the rare ability to commit fully to a role, going to places that are not necessarily comfortable for him, and bringing authenticity to his work. I respect and admire both these young players enormously.�

Commenting on shooting in isiZulu and isiSotho with a small amount of English, Schlesinger says: �As the film is about a cultural and language divide that existed in the early 90s, it had to be shot in these languages, so it could make sense.�

She believes a film must be made in the language(s) appropriate to the story. �Often, when I meet foreign producers or directors, they comment on the way in which our local films slide easily between languages. Many of them see it as a virtue. The one challenge for a subtitled film is that it could meet resistance in the international arena, and this is something we need to think about as South African filmmakers.�