South African-born, London-based filmmaker & photographer discusses the development of her unique aesthetic in film and commercials
As the first recipient of the ScreenCraft Short Film Production Fund, self-taught director Fourie adds to her burgeoning lists of accolades. In a short Q&A, she discusses the way her work seeks to challenge our culture’s traditional notions of beauty and how strong mentors, grants and career changing opportunities have supported the development of her unique aesthetic in film and commercials.
Q > You’ve said in the past that your love of creating different worlds through images led you to pursue photography and, eventually, filmmaking. You’ve called cinema the ‘ultimate art form’. Do you feel like your work balance has shifted so that you’re now doing more photography than film, or is it more or less equal? Do you prefer moving or still image?
Natasja Fourie > These days, my focus is more centred around screenwriting and directing. I find the writing period very therapeutic whilst the physicality and challenges of the production really excite me. I love working with a team that shares my creative vision. The collaborative process is really enriching and rewarding in itself. I don’t really see myself as a moving image artist as my film work centres around narrative projects and stories. I do, however, very much enjoy photography - perhaps the escapism element of it. I don’t think I would ever be tied to one medium – I’m way too adventurous for that.
Q > How has your background in visual communication, art, and advertising influenced your career as a director and photographer?
NF > My background definitely gave me an introduction to the visual world of commerce but cinema and advertising are two very different worlds. Both mediums, however, rely on a strong vision and visual message. Where advertising is more focused on trying to persuade an audience, a good film has the power to inform, educate, and make the audience question the world.
Q > Do you have any industry mentors that have helped you to shape your career over the years?
NF > I think one’s creative path has to do with people you encounter on the way, people who inspire you and who help shape and drive you forward. I certainly owe a lot to Janette De Villiers, my producer at Groundglass, who really believed in my potential as a young director. When I first met her I only had a few photographs and music videos to show her, but she saw something that she could work with and immediately made plans to kick-start my career.
The Man with the Heavy Leg was shot on location in Cape Town in collaboration with Groundglass and the South African NFVF. It’s a short film that explores themes dealing with guilt and consequence and the interplay of dynamics in a country where compassion is an expensive commodity. Janette, the Executive Producer of the film, really believed in my vision and the relevance of the story. The film premiered at the Cannes Short Film Corner in 2015 and we have secured international distribution with Shorts International HD. Janette and I hope to continue working together on relevant projects.
I would also like to mention Kate Verity Wilson, my producer and mentor in London. We are currently working on an exciting short film: 13. The film is based on the short story, Dertien, by acclaimed South African writer, André P. Brink. The story is about an immigrant factory worker in London who falls further and further into a cycle of psychological trauma as he struggles to make any kind of connection with the world at large.
Q > Who are your creative heroes and why?
NF > I have always been attracted to people with strong voices and supreme talent. There are many artists I look up to who have inspired me. For instance, Paul Thomas Anderson dropped out of film school, learnt the craft by watching films by the filmmakers he liked, and then went off to do things his own way. He is one of the supreme talents in filmmaking today. Charlie Kaufmann, with his creativity and originality, is a true inspiration for me as a young screenwriter. It was fascinating to watch Jonathan Glazer’s transition from revolutionary music videos and commercials to narrative feature films.
Q > In 2014, your debut feature film screenplay, ‘Blood In The Water’, was shortlisted for the semi-final round of the Screencraft Screenwriting Fellowship and, in 2015, ScreenCraft and Beverly Hills-based media fund, Bondit, announced your screenplay for 13 as the recipient of the inaugural Short Film Production Fund. Has this award had a big impact on your career or led to other awards or features?
NF > Short filmmakers still need production funding and resources more than anything else. It was amazing to learn that ScreenCraft and Bondit have awarded 13 a $25,000 production grant. It’s a real endorsement of this project and has certainly propelled the production process forward. Now we have the support of a LA production company behind us who will actively develop the project. The award has opened many doors. I’ve had calls from Literary Agents in Hollywood, and Buffalo 8 are interested in developing the short into a feature film.
Q > What advice would you give to aspiring directors and photographers trying to break into commercial or long form film-making?
NF > Filmmaking requires endurance and has many ups and downs along the way. It’s vital to develop your own voice and aesthetic and to believe in your own projects even when no one else seems to care. It is a big commitment and a huge investment of one’s time. You have to believe in your dream and then push through from start to finish without getting discouraged.
Q > You’ve spoken about how your father’s work as a political playwright gave ‘voice to the voiceless’, the downtrodden in society, and you too seem to be drawn to these overlooked stories in your own film work – for example in The Man with the Heavy Leg and 13. Would you say that you like to explore the theme of the societal alienation of the vulnerable?
NF > I am definitely intrigued by marginalized groups and the so-called underdog, issues that cannot easily be ignored coming from a place like South Africa.
Q > Are you working on any other projects with Groundglass that you can talk about?
NF > Janette and I hope to work on a short film inspired by the work of MS Burger, an activist for gay and lesbian rights in the nineties. She has put together a fascinating bundle of short stories that explore themes surrounding gender, immediate family, sexuality, and violence.
Q > Your work deals with issues of human vulnerability and nudity is obviously an indicator of this. The ethics of popular film and advertising have often been called into question over issues of sexualisation, objectification, and exploitation of female bodies through the male gaze. Nude female forms feature heavily in your work; how do you think your position as a female photographer interacts with this conversation?
NF > I see my work as a celebration of the female form rather than an objectification of it.
Q > In your personal work - for example, ‘Honour Thy Mother’, ‘Weekend’, and ‘I Think About you all the Time’ - would you say that revealing the beauty in what is usually considered hidden or taboo to be a big theme? What is the motivation behind these projects?
NF > I like to challenge our culture’s puritanical fear of anything that fits outside traditional notions of beauty. I want to move, question, and disrupt assumptions without being judgmental.
Q > Your work is often shot outside in nature. Is this a conscious trend? Has anything directly influenced this?
NF > I like spending time outdoors. Green space is vital to my health and mental state. I enjoy creating work in these environments. I grew up in the countryside so spending time in nature is engrained in my DNA.
Q > Do your personal projects have much influence on your commercial work?
NF > I’d like to think that I get booked for jobs based on my voice and aesthetic. Of course, I try to insert as much of myself as possible into each project.
Q > In your experience, how do South Africa and England compare in terms of career opportunities in your industry, in particular, opportunities for female directors and photographers?
NF > South Africa has a gold mine of unexplored stories and talent but unfortunately funding and resources are still a problem for filmmakers regardless of gender. Not many people can afford to go to film school; I certainly couldn’t. Film funding is very limited and it can take years to get projects financed in South Africa.
In England, we have access to many different funding schemes and initiatives for filmmakers and, increasingly, ones that are specifically for female filmmakers. However, the market is quite saturated so the grants are only given to a few.
Q > What kinds of commercial projects would you like to be involved in this year?
NF > I would like to work on projects that are creative and stimulating but that also challenge our perceptions of the world we live in.