Etienne Kallos • Director
"I wanted to explore the experience of living in fracture, of being displaced"
by Davide Abbatescianni
- CANNES 2018: Etienne Kallos talks about The Harvesters, a coming-of-age story about two stepbrothers set in modern-day South Africa, which is screening in Un Certain Regard
Award-winning Greek-South African director Etienne Kallos is presenting The Harvesters [+see also:
interview: Etienne Kallos
film profile] in Un Certain Regard at the 71st Cannes Film Festival. Kallos describes his film as a “coming-of-age story about an Afrikaans farm boy, Janno (Brent Vermeulen), whose childhood comes to an abrupt end when his conservative parents bring home a manipulative street orphan, Pieter (Alex van Dyk), to foster on their remote cattle farm in South Africa.” We asked him a few questions about his work.
Cineuropa: The Harvesters was developed during the Cannes Cinéfondation Residence in 2011. How did this experience contribute to the making of the film?
Etienne Kallos: The Residence was a unique, empowering experience. It opened a lot of doors for European funding and support. The film was eventually produced by Sophie Erbs of Cinema Defacto. It is officially a French film, and it would not have been made if it were not for the Cinéfondation's ongoing support. First, the Cinéfondation selected my student film Doorman to premiere, and then they selected The Harvesters' script for development. I will always be grateful.
The film explores identity and sexuality within the Afrikaner culture of modern-day South Africa. Why did you decide to focus your film on these themes?
South Africa is my country, and I wanted to make a film that explores what is happening there today, to show cinematically an emerging experience that is hard to put into words. To be both African and European means my identity is fractured in two, then under this is my private identity – a third fracture – and so it goes on and on. I wanted to explore the experience of living in fracture, of being displaced culturally and spiritually, of being a product of this post-colonial era. Themes of sexuality and identity are part of my ongoing preoccupations with the questioning and re-invention of the male perspective. The staunchly patriarchal Afrikaans culture, trying so hard to resist the endless change that is post-colonial Africa, is a fascinating context to work within.
Could you tell us a little about the two leads?
Although I directed Janno and Pieter as two distinct characters, I wrote them as one character split in two, two sides of the same coin. The complexities of brotherhood and male self-identity in this new era of critique and re-evaluation are fascinating to explore. For instance, in myself I see two main parts: one side of me is an insecure man who is not willing to live in a world without love, and this is Janno; the other part of me is the survivor who defies the judgement of others, willing to exist without love and at any cost, and this is Pieter.
What was it like working on such a big international co-production – and on your debut feature?
I did not think being part of an international co-production would be as difficult as it was. With moving parts spread over four countries, we all had to accept a certain amount of ongoing chaos. Luckily, we had a strong lead producer in Sophie Erbs. I spent years finding the locations and cultivating relationships with the local farmers, so it was easier for me to maintain my vision, in the midst of an international production, on a set that I had found. During post-production in Europe, it became a lot more challenging to maintain my African point of view. Despite everyone's best intentions, the details of colour and sound, which are so specific in Africa, were almost lost in the European post-production houses. Luckily, I had a great French editor by my side, Muriel Breton.
To what extent did your cast help in making your vision a reality?
Cinema is a collaborative medium, and without my cast and crew, there would be no film; I could not be more grateful. The dynamic between the two boys is the story, so I spent a long time driving from school to school finding the right actors, making sure they had chemistry with each other, making sure the parents were okay to sign off on such intense material. For a while, I did not think it would happen, and then suddenly it all came together. Coming from a theatrical background, my first love is working with actors, so we had a lot of fun, and we did a lot of improvisations in the week before shooting. The experienced actors, Juliana Venter and Morne Visser, worked hard to create a sense of community for the boys to feel safe in.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I am working on my second feature script, a religious American genre film set in Utah, and I am also developing a TV series set in Europe. I am in the early stages, and hopefully Cannes will bring opportunities to collaborate my way.
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