Desiree Kahikopo on Berlinale, Production Process and Vision for ‘The White Line’
Now that production for the Namibian feature film, The White Line is wrapped, Namib Insider sat down with the film’s director, Desiree Kahikopo to talk more on the filming process.
The White Line is your directorial debut. How was the story born? Why was this the story you decided to tell?
The White Line was a story I came up with during 2016, after watching a show on the American civil rights movement. Americans talk about their past and their struggles and all the stories that came with it, while us as Namibians, despite our rich past, don’t talk about ours, at least not visually as much. I came up with the title ‘The White Line’ and wrote it down in my notebook and left it at that for a while. After that, I saw something on Facebook on the old-location uprising and that’s when I came up with the story for The White Line, but when I came up with it, it wasn’t the love story it turned out to be. I told Micheal about the story I had written and the next year, in 2017, we decided to work on it. During that time, Girley Jazama conducted an interview with a child of an interracial couple and the story of his parents was really inspiring and upon some more research, we decided that we wanted to go this route and tell a love story in a time of apartheid. At the time I wasn’t thinking of directing at all. I was actually trying to come up with a director for the film, although I knew directing was always something I wanted to do, I didn’t think I was qualified or ready to do it yet. But one day I was driving to Windhoek and I heard from within me ‘why don’t you direct’? I swear it was literally the Holy Spirit. At first, I was like nope, I wouldn’t know what to do or where to begin, but then I asked myself if not now then when. So I just went for it.
Take us through the casting process. Was it easy or were there challenges.
For the lead character Sylvia, I knew already when I came up with the initial story that I wanted Girley for the role. Before The White Line, I was writing another story and for that, I was thinking of casting Girley for one particular character, so for The White Line, there was nobody else who could do Silvia justice in my eyes. For the other characters, I knew what I was looking for, but I didn’t really know if I would find them. At one point, Girley and I went to go and sit at Joe’s Beer House scouting for the white cast. Finding the right actors to play Anne-Marie and Pieter was a bit challenging, especially because of the nature of the story, but after going through a series of others, Sunet van Wyk and Jan-Barend Scheepers were suggested to me and when I saw them I knew they are perfect and exactly what I was looking for. Explaining the characters to them and seeing them take them on was awesome. For the characters Unotjari and Jacobine, we had to go through a series of actors too and then we decided on casting Mervin Cheez Uahupirapi and Vanessa Kamatoto. Charl Botha and a few others came through a casting agency, but we knew Charl was perfect for the role of Jan.
Can you talk a little bit about some of the specific production challenges you faced during filming? How big was your crew and how long did you film?
We had about 28 cast and crew members excluding the extra’s, but from the get-go, the challenge was always financing, mostly because the film was a period piece. Because of that, we knew that we were going to go over budget and we had hoped to raise the money that we needed before we wrapped, but that proved difficulties and still proves to be difficult. We had to film in 14 days and had to make sure that we don’t exceed that and we filmed in three different towns; Usakos, Karibib and Okahandja, so the scheduling had to be right. The cast and crew really did a great job handling the changes in locations and towns, the extras jumped in and were great, the other production challenges were a difference in opinion here and there but nothing hectic really.
This film is set in the 1960’s apartheid era. What were some of the challenges of making a ‘period piece’ in the recent past? How important was it to keep to a 1960s theme and how well is it incorporated in the film?
Well firstly the film is set in Windhoek, but we couldn’t really film in Windhoek because it has really developed over the years. Katutura is really development too, so that was challenging finding suitable locations that for at least a block you could work with, the roads, the streets, the houses both exterior and interior in Windhoek was difficult, so we had to go look outside in the smaller towns. The wardrobe was challenging; to find old South African police uniform and vehicles or just old cars like batons, and so forth was expensive to rent. It was really important to keep to the theme throughout the film in everything the audience will see, that it draws them into the time and space into the era and the lives of Sylvia and Pieter and those around them. We had to carefully check everything; wardrobe, houses (inside and outside), streets, cars, the accents, the languages, the food they ate, the things they drank everything, it wasn’t easy but we did it to the best of what we could do with what we had to work with. To say the least, I am very proud and happy with how the film turned out.
What were your goals for the film when you were starting out and what are the impact goals for the film now that it’s done?
When I started with this film I knew that I wanted it to travel outside Namibia, and I also wanted it to travel across all parts of Namibia. I wanted to help usher in a new dawn in the Namibian film industry, to break barriers in the industry not just in Namibia but in Africa as well. I had set my mind that I was going to submit it to international film festivals both major and minor, have the film first travel at festivals (and it will), get distribution in cinema’s around Southern African, East Africa and hopefully West African as well. I have spoken to a few distributors who are interested. We are looking to gain European and North American distribution, but we need the finished film because the distributors want to see a finished film and then the goal was to submit it to the Oscars. I really just want it to be one of the successful and recognised films out of Namibia and shine a light on the Namibian film industry. I started submitting recently the work-in-progress to festivals, praying to Jesus we get in.
How far is post-production for The White Line and when can we expect to see the film?
The film is complete, we just need that additional funding to get it out, and right now because the plan is to do the festival circuit first, we do not have a definite date for premier or release as of yet.
You recently delivered a presentation titled ‘Namibia: A Unique Voice within the African Cinematic Movement’ at the Berlinale Africa Hub. How important is a representation of the Namibian film industry, especially since its picking up momentum? How do we grow our industry and make it competitive with the world?
Representation is very important, I learned that more being at Berlinale, because we get to speak and let our voices be heard. We get to be seen as an industry that’s standing and active and as a people and shift whatever stereotype is out there about us. We want co-productions, collaborations, we want for things to change and contribute to that change that’s taking place. I have learned recently that we need to be in those places markets, festivals and have those discussions with fellow filmmakers and form those relationships because you can’t really form a relationship from afar. People will only assume about us unless we are present. Some filmmakers I met and distributors didn’t really know that Namibia has a film industry. So being there and talking to people and forming those relationships and learning from each other can only help build you as an individual and then the industry itself. We need private individuals to invest in film and corporate companies to fund films and we need collaboration and co-productions amongst our fellow Africans as well international producers and investors and we also need to build a cinema-going audience. You are right, Namibia’s film industry is picking up momentum and that’s really great, but I think we also need to kind of know where we want to go and how we want to get there, listening to presentations from East Africa (Kenya, Rwanda), Nigeria and South Africa you get a sense of who they are and where they want to be. First and foremost, we need to start looking at the film as a business that needs to sustain itself and us, story development, we hear that some stories take years before they are made, I am not saying take years but make sure your story is airtight. We need producers that understand the business of film and not just film as an art form, has a distribution and marketing plan/strategies and learn that it doesn’t happen overnight. I had to learn that doing The White Line, and working hard and working together selflessly.
Watch The White Line trailer below: