Breaking stereotypes on camera
WHEN Cape Town-born film director Maynard Kraak set up his own production company a few years ago, he wanted to make financially successful films – that meant he needed to cash in on the Afrikaans market.
“Afrikaans films are making money,” said Kraak, originally from Penlyn Estate near Rylands.
The catch is Kraak, who defines himself as coloured, is making films for a predominantly white Afrikaner market with which he initially wasn’t too familiar.
“It’s not the easiest challenge to be English-speaking and coloured and make films for white Afrikaners. I had to get out of my comfort zone.
“I am not part of the establishment and I have to make something for that audience.”
And while his last two films raked in millions at the box office, Kraak still has to deal with uncomfortable questions while navigating his way through the Afrikaans market and funding meetings.
“People see my name and assume that I’m white. One guy that I had a meeting with asked me if I’m Portuguese. At another meeting I was asked, ‘How coloured are you?’”
“I deal with people on a high level. I speak English and I don’t mix my languages. I don’t fit the coloured stereotype. But some of the people that I meet with have a mental block.
“They think in stereotypes. It’s the whole system. This is what you have to deal with. And you have to eat that elephant one bit at a time.”
Kraak’s success speaks for itself in rand value though. His company, West Five Films, has produced four features, two of which he has directed. One is Sonskyn Beperk, which opens at cinemas nationwide on March 11.
Kraak described Sonskyn Beperk as a romantic comedy-drama set on a farm on the outskirts of Cape Town.
“It’s the story of a young Afrikaans woman who returns to South Africa to her widower dad’s farm at a time of recession. She works on Wall Street (the financial district in New York) and has been living the dream with her American boyfriend.
“She gets word from her dad’s best friend, who is also the farm manager, that the farm is struggling. She believes it’s her duty to return as the only child, to help save the farm.
“She is carrying around guilt as well because she was not there for her father when her mom died. Her father has slight resentment she was not there.”
Kraak said a love triangle also ensues as her American boyfriend heads south to meet her.
Kraak is hoping for success with this film after his directorial feature debut in 2014, Vrou Soek Boer, earned R5.7 million at the box office. The second film his company produced, Knysna, made just under R5m.
Kraak’s preparation for the Afrikaans market came via a previous job at a production company that made Afrikaans films and TV soapies. Before that, he directed local TV soapies Generations and Scandal.
“We need to make films that will make money. If you look at cinemas around the country now they have local films and that needs to make money otherwise we won’t get distribution.”
Kraak doesn’t plan on making only Afrikaans-language films though. His company’s fourth film, its first in English, is also due for release in a few months.
Kraak said he also plans to make films that tell stories of coloured people – but without entrenched stereotypes.
“There is so little relevance given to coloured people on South African TV. And whenever we see coloured people on screen, they are stock characters.
“They are either gangsters, drug addicts, abusive or don’t have teeth. And they all speak Afrikaans. That’s how other people see coloureds. That’s the racial stereotype that has been cemented over decades.
“We are so economically, culturally and religiously diverse as coloureds. We all grow up together in one another’s homes, and we learn to be so tolerant of everyone. We find humour in difficult circumstances.
“I am going to make films about coloured people. But these won’t be films that are called coloured films. They will be films that everyone can watch.
“I don’t want to be known as a coloured film-maker. All these white film-makers make films for people who are not white and they aren’t categorised. As soon as we make films for coloureds or blacks then we are pigeonholed.”
Given his track record of interesting career shifts, it is clear Kraak won’t be squeezed into boxes. He joined the navy when he left school because he “didn’t know what to do with my life” and “loved the idea of adventure”.
“After that I was a police detective, living a character in my own movie. It’s a really tough job with pathetic wages, and risking your life all the time.
“I was in the trenches. And I said no, this wasn’t what I wanted to do with my whole life. I then went to study drama and ended up directing.
“When I finished my first year of drama, I decided that I wanted to go to film school. I went to the US and came back home via the UK, where I studied film.”