Interview by Isedehi Aigbogun
Sara Blecher is a South African filmmaker who has made a number of award-winning features, documentaries and drama series, notable amongst them are “Surfing Soweto” and “Kobus And Dumile,” for which she won CNN’s African journalist of the year award. Her first feature film, “Otelo Burning,” won over 17 international awards and was named by CNN as one of the top ten African films of the decade. Following the success of Otelo Burning, she got funding from the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and made Ayanda. Sara is one of the most influential filmmakers in Africa and globally recognized for her achievements.
Isd: We'd like to know what motivated you to get involved with the film industry. At what age did you start? Do you have any regrets?
Sara Blecher: I love film. I love the power of film. I love making films. I love watching film. And I always have – my whole life. Regrets…? I sometimes wish I could do something else - something easier. A job that started at nine and finished at five. A job where I didn't always feel like I was putting my whole inner self on the line. Something safe... and then I think, would I ever be able to do a job like that and to be honest I don't think so.
Isd: Interesting. Do you feel sometimes that you've got contenders in the film industry you wish you were better than?
Sara Blecher: No not really. There are so much bad films made that when I see a great film it is so rare and it makes me happy. I love discovering new filmmakers. And I love watching beautiful films. To me it's like reading a great book. It makes my world bigger. And knowing how hard it is to make films, especially on this continent, it fills me with awe and admiration. They don't feel like contenders as much as they feel like compatriots. People who inspire me, make me better.
Isd: Incredible. Considering you've talked about bad films and good films on the continent, can you give a sort of precise example, and what makes you think they are good or bad? That's for both categories.
Sara Blecher: Great films are films that make you think. Films that challenge you and stay with you long after they are finished. Bad films are like candy floss; or fast food - films you can hardly remember the minute they stop playing.
Isd: I recall watching some movies I consider bad, and because they are so bad and overtly hyped, I remember them all too often. Do you, by any chance, feel the same way?
Sara Blecher: Yes but if I try and think of a single scene or moment in them I can't recall anything. It's like there is no space in my brain for bad film - like bad food. You just want to forget the experience as fast as possible. Good film. Like great food you want to savor forever.
Isd: Being one who understands elements of good film, do you by any chance engage upcoming filmmakers on good filmmaking? And if so, how do you ensure that you impact an everlasting understanding in them, the upcoming filmmakers?
Sara Blecher: I think taste differs. And I don't like to impose my taste on others. When possible I love to teach and run master classes or give guest lectures. But this is always to people who want to hear what I think. I could never be a film critic.
Isd: Do you read reviews on your movies?
Sara Blecher: Depends on whether I respect the people doing the reviews or not. I love reading reviews by people I respect. When you make a film you get so trapped in your own head it's hard to see the film from outside. So reviews really help.
Isd: Do you know any filmmakers who detest reviews in whatever form?
Sara Blecher: I am sure there are. But I don't know any offhand. I just think it's important as a filmmaker to consider the option of people you respect.
Isd: Which of your movies are you most proud of, and why?
Sara Blecher: Most proud of? That's a tough one. I love Otelo Burning because I put eight years of my life into it. It really has my blood in it. And I love Surfing Soweto because the trained surfers put so much of themselves into it. It has their blood in it. But I also think Ayanda is a very important film in terms of empowering women on this continent. And in some way so is Dis ek Anna. So I don't know. Which do you like?
Isd: I'm big on theme, and would naturally fall for Ayanda. What's your filmmaking strength? What do you believe makes your movies tick?
Sara Blecher: Ok, last question because I need to go...and that is a tough question. I need to think about that one. What do you think?
Isd: I think the message and application of subtext makes them tick.
One more question please. What's your belief on the role of the screenplay in filmmaking? How much respect would you grant it on a scale of 1-10?
Sara Blecher: That depends so much on the film. In Otelo we improvised so much that the screenplay was really just a guide. But in Dis ek Anna it was really important. So it depends a lot on the film. Actually I think the screenplay is always important on some level. If there isn't a lot of thought given to the screenplay then the plot is often filled with holes and this is incredibly distracting. The thinking behind the screenplay also gives the film a structure and a depth. It isn't necessary to be true to every word of dialogue in a screenplay, but it is necessary to understand the point of the scenes and why they are there...I love your last answer, by the way.
Isd: Great. Should I wait for an answer for that too? You said you'd like to give it some thought.
Sara Blecher: No, I like your answer.
Isd: I'm flattered. Did I miss out on anything you'd like to contribute to this interview?
Sara Blecher: No, I don't think so
Isd: Thank you so much Sara. I enjoyed this session. I do hope to meet you soon again.
Sara Blecher: Me too.