Kulani Nkuna
4 minute read
3 Dec 2013
6:00 am

Local movie-makers hope for Hollywood

Kulani Nkuna

Spirit Of Denture and Saving Norman, hardly seem like titles for films that would win the South Africa leg of an international competition.

THREE WISE MEN: From left: Dana Brunetti (producer), 2012 Jameson First Shot competition winner Alan Shelley and actor Kevin Spacey at the premiere of Shelley's Spirit Of A Denture.

Unconcerned with telling a typically “South African” story – often a burden when trying to create original local work – both works instead met the brief required by the Jameson First Shot film competition, which state that the films should be “legendary, humorous or a very tall tale”.

In both films’ allotted ten-minute running time, all this was achieved. A humorous theme made up the core of Spirit Of Denture, which won the inaugural competition in 2012 (directed by Alan Shelley), while Julian Schutte’s Saving Norman (this year’s winner) was legendary and humorous at the same time. Both are remarkable works and have created positive buzz for their writer/directors.

Both submitted scripts which were quirky, with no conventional inclinations whatsoever. The winning scripts afforded the chance for Shelley to direct Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey in his film and for Schutte to be able to work with Willem Dafoe.

“I’m used to being involved a lot in other aspects of production in South Africa, but when I got to LA, all I had to do was direct,” says Shelley.

“The great thing about this competition is that everything is geared to support you – and there is help along the way. Kevin Spacey was great to work with because he came up with a lot of questions and a lot of suggestions, some of which I liked and others which I didn’t. It was interesting for me to say ‘no’ to a two-time Academy Award winner if I did not like a particular suggestion. It was a great experience and first-time directors should enter this competition because it is a great opportunity. It has given me street cred in a sense, because people are willing to listen and lend a hand whenever I need help with a project.”

Next year, Uma Thurman will take on the lead role in three shorts written and directed by up-and-coming filmmakers from South Africa, Russia and the US, following on from Creative Director Spacey’s starring role in 2012 and Dafoe’s in 2013.

Thurman will bring an exciting new quality to the competition, both as a skilled actor and as the first female to take on the lead role for this competition. She’s played characters as diverse as Irene Cassini in Gattaca, Cécile de Volanges in Dangerous Liaisons, The Bride in the Kill Bill franchise and most famously, Mia Wallace in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

“This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will cherish forever,” says Schutte.

“I had so many highlights during my time in the competition, but I think playing ping-pong with Willem Dafoe between takes and attending my own premiere in Johannesburg are definitely up there. The competition has given me incredible exposure and has been a huge boost to my career, so I’ll definitely be able to take on my next project with more confidence.

“However, it hasn’t just helped me as a filmmaker – it has also been a life-enriching experience. I have just finished my first feature film and I have the next one in development, so things are busy. I would advise this year’s entrants to write something that they would want to see, not something they think the judges would want to see.”

The two films that have triumphed in the first two years have surprised many people, not only because of the story choices, but how well made the pieces are. Shelley concurs with Schutte about writing a film that you would want to see, which appears to be the key ingredient in being successful in next year’s Jameson First Shot competition.

“It is good to be the underdog because many people around the world are really surprised by the quality of the films that we made,” says Shelley. “The standard is high and we have a mature and developed sense of storytelling. We are heading towards being a real player in world cinema.”

Thurman has said she is excited about the competition.

“What excites me about being involved with Jameson First Shot is that I love the idea of finding and discovering young talent,” she said.

“It’s what makes the film business alive. Even though we’re making short films I don’t think anyone should feel limited in this form; if you look back over my work I’ve been many different characters so people should feel completely open to write whatever they are passionate about.

“I’m honoured to be a part of this extraordinary project and I can’t wait to read the screenplays that are entered – and ultimately be the vehicle to help three talented filmmakers tell their stories to the world.”