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Red Ants march through film’s plot

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BIG ISSUE: Phil Harrison says the Red Ants make a good subject for a film as they represent how capitalism tears communities apart. Above, Harrison and Luthando Mthi, who plays the character of Walter, discuss a scene.

Set in Cape Town and Belfast, The Good Man explores what goodness means in a world overtaken by globalisation and financial giants spreading their tentacles into the unlikeliest of places, writes Theresa Smith

A QUESTION about language choices and setting dictating your market got director Phil Harrison talking about the danger of trying to make a film for a specific niche, instead of simply telling the story.

The Irish writer/director attended a recent screening of his debut feature, The Good Man, which opens on Monday in Joburg and Cape Town, and spoke about not oversimplifying your characters to an audience.

“That’s not to say I don’t think the film is going to find an audience. I think that if you tell a story well and it’s engaging and you create believable characters, that will find an audience. You don’t create the characters for the audience, you create them for the story,” he said.

“Without giving it away, there’s a sense that there’s an audience expectation that is actually thwarted at the end (of the film), and if I’d been thinking about the audience… It was important that I stayed true to the context of the story and the movement within the story rather than some expectation from outside,” said Harrison.

He was travelling around southern Africa researching the role of creativity and art in protest and struggle when he found out about the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign in 2007.

Harris, 39, returned two years later to write a script, which became a reality in 2012 when he started shooting the crowdsource-funded film.

The Good Man explores issues of guilt and responsibility in the face of impossible choices and was first screened in South Africa at last year’s Durban International Film Festival.

Since then it has travelled the film festival circuit and now it opens for a limited release in South Africa and Ireland.

The feature film didn’t fall under the South African-Irish co-production treaty so it’s not a financial co-production in the strictest sense of it, though it did draw on cast and crew from both sides of the ocean.

“It wasn’t just about saving money but about collaborating,” said Harrison.

Two years on he is already working on his next project, which will be set in Ireland, but he is toying with the idea of doing the post-production in South Africa, now that he’s established a working relationship with a Cape Town-based crew he connected with.

If he could return to the issues raised in The Good Man it would be to tell the story of one of the Red Ants, who were sent in to demolish the shacks: “I think that’s another story about how capitalism tears communities apart.”

Harrison is a follower of the third cinema movement, which decries the capitalist system and the Hollywood movement, which produce films for the express purpose of making money.

“I wouldn’t rule out working in a studio, it depends on the product. But I’m focused more on the third cinema practice. I’m interested in how authority functions. In various contexts, authority works in different ways and we have fewer and fewer ways of critiquing authority.”

He sees film as a way to problematise the way we see things, especially how people either love authority or give it over to be controlled by other people.

With his next film he wants to look at Northern Ireland’s recent history, “exploring how we carry the past and how the past carries us, in deeply problematic ways”.

He quotes Emily Dickinson’s Time and Eternity (“One need not be a chamber to be haunted”): “There’s something inside of us that is haunted and that’s what I want to explore in the new film, how communities and individuals carry the past and what they do with it. In places like Northern Ireland and South Africa, it is still very alive.”


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