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LBB Film Club: Memory


Director Bauke Brouwer tells LBB’s Nisna Mahtani about his short film exploring themes of redemption through the movement of dance and the symbolism of water

LBB Film Club: Memory

Dutch-born, South African-raised Bauke Brouwer has over 20 years of global experience as a director and editor in film, television, and advertising. In his latest short film, titled ‘Memory’, he takes inspiration from his heritage to create a narrative through dance. Using the universally recognisable art form, the theme of redemption underpins the piece as a whole.

Bauke’s focus and passion remain on what he sees as the humble yet profound craft of storytelling. There are no airs and graces. His vision is to create work that will complete the circle and build a genuine connection with the viewer. In ‘Memory’ he does exactly that. As dancer Will Fraser moves to words spoken by Kenyan professor Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, he battles with himself and eventually comes to a sense of peace through the refuge of water. 

Director Bauke sits down with LBB’s Nisna Mahtani to speak in more detail about ‘Memory’. 

LBB> When did you first hear this spoken word piece and what was your first reaction to it?

Bauke> I felt stuck in the editing process. At four in the morning, I knew none of the music we were sampling did justice to the raw beauty in the performance of our lead dancer, Will Fraser.  That was, until I came across a track from a South African jazz musician. The moment I heard his track, I knew those were the lyrics. It turned out that the lyrics were from an interview given by a Kenyan professor, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.  A quick YouTube search and I found the entire 20-minute interview.  

In the interview, he explores the idea that by taking a language away from a group of people; it can oppress them and take away their identity and their memories. There was a clear connection here between memories and the need for redemption. This just felt right, even without trying to make it fit. As a director, this reinforced the lesson that stories are multifaceted and interconnected. From South Africa to Kenya and back here in the Netherlands, we built a golden thread around which I could craft this narrative. 

LBB> How did you envision the film taking shape and how did this evolve through the process of making it?

Bauke>. At the end of 2019, I moved to the Netherlands, having lived in South Africa since I was nine. To assist me in building up a new network, I took a job at an advertising agency as its director and content creative. Having always worked with agencies as a director, the experience of working within one has been invaluable. Being part of the creative process early on was a different way of working, a more collaborative approach. I’ve really enjoyed this, as being a director can feel like you are on your own island at times. But there was something else missing, the creative freedom that I had when freelancing. I was feeling stuck in my directing craft. So, after a year of projects that didn’t feel challenging, I felt the need to set myself a challenge.

I’ve always had the desire to create a narrative through dance. The world of dance is universally recognised as something that binds and connects people, places, and cultures, but as an art form, it was still unknown to me. And within that lay the challenge to create something far removed from my most recent role in advertising. The theme I wanted to explore through dance was of redemption. That exploration really motivated me to push this project, as I felt out of control, not knowing exactly what I wanted to say but I knew I wanted to say something and find great talent to help me in doing so. My role then was to guide the process and see how the film took shape.  

LBB> The film is captured in a square format. How did this first come about and why was it the right fit to capture the story?

Bauke> I filmed a commercial on the Alexa [camera], which captures full frame. So, on set, I always looked at it from that perspective. At first it felt strange, but by the time we got to the editing process, it felt normal. The final delivery was reframed for 16:9, but what I really missed then was the feeling that the subjects were always centred, horizontally and vertically. So when my DOP, Bob Alkemade, started chatting about this project, it felt like the right choice. Shooting square made the dancer the focus of the frame. To be really honest, ‘Ida’, the 2013 film directed by Paweł Pawlikowski also stuck with me a little.  

LBB> What was the casting process like and how did you find the right person to capture the free spirit and choreography that creates the performance?

Bauke> I had reached out to a few actors who I had worked with since moving to Amsterdam. A few names came back and I reached out to them via Instagram.  Will was the first to respond.  We met for coffee and I pitched the idea to him, and honestly, that was the extent of the casting process. He connected with the story and bought into it right away. Will is genuinely collaborative in his approach, honest in his performance, and a sincerely kind person.   

LBB> Who coordinated the movement of the actor and how did you ensure it captured the right level of emotion you wanted to see? Is there anything specific you do as a director to help shape the performance?

Bauke> During the process of producing a commercial, every detail has been discussed before you get to set. Between the initial briefing, treatment and PPM, there isn’t much room to explore. With ‘Memory’, I wanted the process to be organic, give myself the room to explore and be led by the process. So for Will, I had written the shortest script ever. ‘A man wakes up to be attacked by an outside force. He finds refuge in water and begins to forge a new path in life’. Will and I had a few conversations about what the meaning could possibly be, but I wasn’t completely sure what it meant. 

That exploration really motivated me to push this project as I felt out of control, not knowing exactly what I wanted to say… but I knew I wanted to say something and find great talent to help me in doing so. My role then was to guide the process and see how the film took shape.  

My role as a director changes depending on the project. For ‘Memory’, I needed to create a safe space for Will, a space where he could express his feelings through his movements. Another relationship that was essential was between the dancer and the camera. This was Will’s first experience with film and dancing for the camera; finding the light was a foreign concept for him. Bob (DoP) was the closest person to Will and took on the role of guiding him through the technicalities of filming, which allowed me to focus on shaping the performance. 

LBB> Where did you shoot the film and how long did it take to capture all of the footage?

Bauke> There was a small crew consisting of me, the DoP, the puller and the dancer. For practical reasons, we kept it to the four of us.  It allowed us to work in a sensitive way in the environment and be free with our creative choices, as we only had to point the camera and engage with Will to show us what would work for his performance. With that, we were ready to shoot.  

This did mean that finding the right light was essential. Bob and I had recce’d several similar locations, but Sandpoort was our preference.  Being close to the ocean meant we had the maximum ‘happy hour’ of light and we embraced the style of backlighting the dancer as much as possible. You have to work with the elements, not against them, especially if you are working with zero budget. The film was shot during a summer afternoon into the early evening.  

LBB> The spoken word is underpinned by the natural sounds that we expect to hear in the setting and some external sounds to set the mood. Can you tell us about the process of working on the audio for the piece?

Bauke> The sound design was done by Nick at Stainless Sound. Since moving to Amsterdam, I have worked with him on several projects, and his passion for his craft makes this one of the most rewarding processes. Over the course of a week, we built up the sound layers until every imageable sound was included. It sounds like a lot, which is because it is. 

Then, it was about making choices. One thing that editing has taught me is that it’s not what you put in that is important, but what you leave out. So, we started the process of stripping back and discovered that it wasn’t about emphasising the moments of ‘attack’, but rather the moments of ‘peace’. Like every aspect of this project, we allowed the film to take on a life of its own and we were just custodians of the initial concept of redemption.

LBB> The imagery goes from the green of the trees, the warmth of the sun and the blue of the water into all red, pained imagery. Can you tell us a little bit about the contrast between the two?

Bauke> I was asked the other day if we shot ‘Memory’ in South Africa. I think that is a compliment to selecting the right location and an inspired grade by Josh Borill. Cape Town wasn’t an option, but Sandpoort was a good stand-in. It offered us that Savanna feeling, but with variety in scenery so that we could progress the dance. Initially, the dance takes place on the exposed Savanna. Will is attacked by the force. He finds some refuge in the woods, but that is short lived when he is attacked again. He then finds safety in the water. A very linear story which we intercut during the edit process, creating a more complex visual narrative. The idea of the red imagery is an idea I had from the beginning. A visual way to represent the external force.  

LBB> What’s next for ‘Memory’? Are you taking the project any further? 

Bauke> This idea came up while developing my first feature film script. A story based on a homeless South African boy who finds his redemptive moment and life changing path through surfing. Based on that, I wrote my shortest script: A man wakes up to be attacked by an outside force. He finds refuge in water and begins to forge a new path in life. Within that, there were so many elements to explore, and so ‘Memory’ is in a sense a teaser for more to come. 

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LBB Editorial, Tue, 28 Mar 2023 16:35:00 GMT