One of the best films at this year’s Cape Winelands Film Festival was coming-of-age story North Sea Texas, set somewhere on the Belgian coast.
Director Bavo Defurne was in Cape Town for the festival and has stayed on to present his film at the Out in Africa film festival, which takes place in Joburg as well as Cape Town.
Defurne says the exact setting in the film doesn’t exist because he wanted to create a dream-like place.
“We filmed all over the country and made a collage of the most beautiful places.”
Texas, the bar where the main character Pim (Jelle Florizoone) meets his mother at night, is a protected monument that happened to be closed when the film-makers needed to film.
This technique of creating an idealised place in which to situate characters who stand slightly outside of societal norms is one Defurne has perfected over several award-winning short films.
A hallmark of his work has been the poetic, almost dream-like examination of gay love, longing and loss and he has had the rare distinction of seeing his short films released around the world as a dvd compilation.
One of the questions audience members asked him after his last short Camp Fire was: “What happens next?” which prompted him to make North Sea Texas.
The film is based on a book by poet André Sollie and Defurne has stayed pretty true to what happens in Nooit Gaat Dit Over (which translates to This is Everlasting).
He likens the style of Flemish he’s used on screen to Oxford English. “Not what you speak on the street, but in theatres, or by newsreaders. It’s more like a clean and beautiful language.
“It’s not hip to use but I felt, for this film, the right choice. The film is set in a stylised world, it’s not a realistic world.
“It’s a world I tried to make to give the audience a chance to look into the hearts and minds of people.
“I’m not a documentary film-maker, I don’t need to show what you see when you look out the window. I try to show another world.”
While his short films deal with rejection and the eventual isolation of the main character because of differences from the norm, North Sea Texas has a note of hope to it.
“We all know films like Brokeback Mountain, which is a heartbreaking story about hate and rejection and loneliness, when actually it’s a story about the impossibility of love.
“I felt, however heartbreaking this is, and true-to-life this can be, and harsh the reality can be of this rejection, I’m not sure if a 16-year-old gay or lesbian or whatever teenager, with doubts about his sexuality, sees Brokeback Mountain, will they feel better after the film? That’s my big question.
“And maybe the answer is ‘no’. Even for a grown-up, whoever wants to see something about these matters, sees confirmed how unhappy life can be for lesbian and gay people, or unhappy life can be if you’re not like the rest of society,” Defurne says.
“In this book, when I read it, it was one of the first books I read that I thought, ‘Oh, it doesn’t have such a negative to it, it tells about the beauty of first love.’”
In addition to screening his film at the Cape Winelands Film Festival, Defurne presented a master class on casting, citing his process for North Sea Texas as example.
He cast looking for the actors who had the best chemistry, but eventually realised he was casting parents who would be willing to allow their children to act in a movie about a teenage boy who falls in love with the boy next door.
The film is dedicated to “all the kids whose parents wouldn’t let them take part in this film”.
The film has travelled the regular film festival circuit, picking up many awards along the way, and is moving onto the pink circuit.
This week, North Sea Texas screens as part of the Out In Africa Festival in Cape Town and Joburg and after Out In Africa the film will close The London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
• Out in Africa is on at Hyde Park Nu Metro in Joburg and the V&A Waterfront Nu Metro in Cape Town until Sunday. Check www.oia.co.za for the full programme.