Lwazi Mvusi speaks about directing 'Farewell Ella Bella'
Farewell Ella Bella boasts an all-star cast: Sello Maake ka Ncube, Katlego Danke, Lionel Newton, Mary-Anne Barlow, Noluthando Meje and Jay Anstey as lead character Ella.
It tells the story of a 24-year-old waitress who had to stop following her dreams to look after her alcoholic father. She resents him and is jaded by life. Ironically, it takes her dying father to free a new lease on her life
The film, which had a R5.2million budget, was financed through the Emerging Black Filmmakers Fund.
I spoke to the Durban-born and raised writer and director about the film industry and what inspired "Farewell Ella Bella."
It’s amazing that you have directed your first film when you are so young. Has directing always been the goal for you?
It was. It has always been a natural progression to go from writer to director. I realised that I could already visualise the words I was writing, the shots, the lighting. So why couldn’t I do it?
Which directors have you looked up to?
I was the anomaly at AFDA because everyone loved Spielberg and the other directors. I was more a fan of the writer/director. People like Sam Mendes, Steven Soderbergh, Diablo Cody. I found their stories relatable and helped me find my voice as a writer and director. I’m all about simple stories that are people driven.
Which film changed the way you saw things or challenged you in the way you approach the stories you tell?
Soderbergh’s "Sex, Lies and Videotape" was a simple story about navigating love, marriage and sex. Every time I watch that film it reminds me of the basics- you just need to tell a good story. I also love Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge which is the other end of filmmaking- all about the spectacle. And yet it’s still a simple love story.
What was the main challenge in making "Farewell Ella Bella"?
It was my first time leading a feature film production and sometimes that can be intimidating. Thank goodness that I had Tsholo Mashile (producer) who has worked on films before. It was more about navigating things that may have an impact on the film and finding solutions that will help us move on from the problems we faced.
As a first-time film director, was there any difficulty with getting the cast to trust you with their performance?
I think what helped is that they loved the script and that’s one hurdle jumped. But I also needed to show up on set and earned their respect. I wanted to do my part, but also needed them to do theirs and that meant I had to trust them with their portrayals. We sort each other’s advice and it became a collective effort from everyone to tell this special story. I love that they all had a personal connection to Farewell Ella Bella and there was a sense of ownership.
Do you think there will come a time when seeing a film directed by a woman will not be an anomaly?
There’s a shift happening and it’s about time. A balance is needed and I’m happy that more women are speaking up about the need for more films directed by women. The industry needs to make an effort to do better. The narrative needs to change. We need to ensure diversity in our film industry. Representation must be a constant battle that we are fighting for. We need to keep pushing for it to happen more.
I read that the story was partly inspired by a road trip you took. When did you start working on the story?
Five years ago. I went on a road trip and I kept looking at the changing landscape and how I thought how amazing would it be to tell a story with the landscape as a character too. The story came to me then.
What are you most proud of about Farewell Ella Bella?
I’m proud that it’s a story I would want to watch. It’s a film that reflected my voice because I also want to bring a unique contribution to our film industry. I’m happy that the people who worked on it are happy and I just hope that the audience loves it, too.