The untold story of Afrikaans may seem rather academic and hard to translate to film. Add to this the story of a theatre troupe and their production, ‘Afrikaaps’ that they use to tell this untold story, and you have quite a challenge ahead of you if your job is to make the film about all of this. Dylan Valley, however, first time documentary filmmaker was admirably up to the task. Together with editor, Khalid Shamis, he crafted a story that entertains, informs and – for those whose dialect is explored – even vindicates.
TELLING THE STORY OF THE MAKING OF A THEATRE PERFORMANCE COULD BE AN OVERWHELMING OR AN UNWIELDY PROJECT – HOW DID YOU MANAGE IT? WHAT WAS YOUR PLAN?
Before I was asked by Catherine (the director of the theatre project) to document ‘Afrikaaps’, I was already on the team as a video maker for the show. That gave me a huge advantage because I was there from the beginning. I think my plan was to always have the camera ready, and shoot anything that seemed relevant.
WHEN YOU WERE ASKED TO DOCUMENT THE PROCESS, WHAT WERE YOUR INITIAL THOUGHTS?
Haha! I think my immediate thoughts were, how the heck am I going to make videos for a theatre show (something I had never done before) and shoot and plan a documentary at the same time? But I was ready for the challenge, and very excited about the project.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW THE FILM STORY BEGAN TO TAKE SHAPE IN YOUR HEAD? HOW DID YOU BEGIN TO MAKE SENSE OF YOUR TASK?
I always thought the film would end up resembling ‘The Buena Vista Social Club’ by Wim Wenders. I’m a huge fan of the film, and I referenced its style and structure a lot in my initial documentary proposal. Because I had around ten characters in my film, I needed to reference a successful musical documentary film that had quite a large cast. The film ended up being quite different from what I had initially planned.
SO, WHAT DID YOU HAVE IN MIND ORIGINALLY, THEN
Buena Vista Social Club on the Cape Flats! With the added twist of the Afrikaans language issue.
DID YOU SHARE THE AFRIKAAPS PHILOSOPHY BEFORE YOU WERE APPROACHED TO MAKE THE FILM, OR DID IT GROW ON YOU?
I was pretty much on the same page from day one. I had written an article with my sister, Greer, about Afrikaans hip hop and the origins of Afrikaans in the Cape just before I met Catherine and Aryan (Kaganof), the dramaturg. The timing was just perfect and we really clicked. I learnt a great deal in the process as well. Some of the history we learnt really blew my mind.
DID YOU SHARE ALL THE POINTS OF VIEW OF THE PERFORMERS AND THEIR DIRECTOR, OR WERE THERE ANY POINTS OF DIFFERENCE? IF THERE WERE, HOW DID YOU APPROACH THIS?
There were no major disagreements. I think everyone brought their own point of view to the table, and everything was mixed together. Catherine was really brilliant in that she didn’t try to impose her vision onto the performers. Everyone had a huge amount of respect for each other, and I think it really came through in their performances and in the film.
I THINK EVERYONE IN THE PLAY HAS A CHANCE TO SAY SOMETHING ON SCREEN – THAT IS VERY DIPLOMATIC. THE INTERVIEW TIME FOR SOME OF THESE CHARACTERS IS VERY SHORT – WHAT INFORMED YOUR DECISION TO GIVE EVERYONE A VOICE?
That was one of the things I was really pushing for in the edit. Being a part of the show, I really witnessed how much of a collaborative process it was. If anyone was under-represented, it would have been a huge error on my part.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO MAKE THE FILM?
All together, I’d say seven months.
HOW MANY CAMERA PEOPLE DID YOU HAVE WITH YOU?
Most of the time it was just myself on camera, and sound as well. For shooting the performances at the Baxter Theatre we had three other camera people.
DID YOU HAVE EXTRA CREW WHEN YOU WENT TO THE KLEIN KAROO NASIONALE KUNSTEFEES?
Yes, it was me and the sound operator Juan Kindo. He actually makes a cameo appearance in the film and shakes Aryan’s hand. He is probably the most filmed sound man in South Africa.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE ON THE HANDHELD, JUMP CUT STYLE?
I prefer handheld in most situations because it aids mobility while shooting and it feels more personal, and if done well can add to the feel of the film instead of giving the audience motion sickness.
I like jump cuts (in moderation) because they don’t hide an edit, so the audience can see exactly where you’ve cut. I really like that for some reason.
HOW DID YOU WORK WITH THE EDITOR – DID HE HAVE FREEDOM TO SHAPE THE STORY, OR DID YOU GUIDE HIM WITH A BRIEF?
Working with Khalid Shamis, the editor, was a lot of fun. It was a very collaborative process. By the time he came in there was a rough brief or structure, but it was very flexible. Together we shifted a lot of stuff around on a drawing board before we were satisfied.
DID YOU DECIDE ON THE STRUCTURE OF THE FILM DURING THE EDIT, OR WHILE FILMING?
I had a structure for the story which I had workshopped with the producers, Miki and Lauren, before the time. I had also met with Khalid and discussed and shared ideas before we started editing.
THE FILM IS RICH WITH MUSIC – HOW DID YOU WORK THE MUSIC INTO THE FILM?
We decided to not have the theatre show dominate the screen time. Instead, we used songs from the show to punctuate different points in the narrative. For example there is a scene in the film where one of the cast members gets arrested; we cut that together with a moving ghoema song in the show that deals with the historically unfair judicial system in South Africa. We had a lot of great music to choose from, so that made it so much easier.
WHO DO YOU THINK WILL ENJOY THE FILM?
I think it appeals to both a local and international audience, as it deals with universal themes. However, I think that young South Africans especially will enjoy it, particularly the ‘coloured’ community as it might reveal parts of their heritage they have never known about. I myself certainly never knew the extent to which the Malays, the Khoi and the San had shaped the language until I started researching this for myself.
WHO DO YOU THINK WILL COME TO WATCH THE FILM?
I’m not sure, but I’m hoping for as many Afrikaans speaking people of all lineages and dialects to come see the film.
THEATRE DOES NOT REACH AS WIDE AN AUDIENCE AS FILM CAN – HOW DO YOU PLAN TO SPREAD THE AFFIRMING MESSAGE OF AFRIKAAPS BEYOND THE MINDS OF THOSE WHO ALREADY BUY INTO ITS PHILOSOPHY?
I definitely want to get it shown at schools, events, on TV and festivals. Basically everywhere! Oh, AND we organize free Documentary Filmmakers Association screenings at ObsCafe every Monday at 7pm, called Doclove Nights (search for the group on facebook.) I’ll be sure to screen it there as well sometime in the future.
Interviewed by Tina-Louise Smith