Africa in Motion

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1 November 2016

Diek Grobler Interview By: Erika Rodriguez Horillo

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Diek Grobler is a multidisciplinary South African artist and the director of “Ek Sal Sterf en na my Vader Gaan” (I Will Die and Go to my Father), one of the films shortlisted for the AiM Short Film Competition. The film is an animation of Bryten Brytenbach’s poem of the same name, and is part of a series of short films within the frame of Filverse, a project Grobler himself conceived and has been the artistic director of since 2014, and that is going through its second edition this year. Other Filmverse films in the AiM Short Film Competition include “‘n Gewone blou Maandagoggend” (An Ordinary Blue Monday) and “Vroegherfs” (Early Autumn), directed by Naomi van Niekerk and Jac Hamman respectively.

I had the opportunity to chat with Grobler about his work, Africa, and Afrikaans language. You can read the full interview here:

Q: You are prolific artist who has explored various disciplines of art. What do you find attractive about cinema?

A: I am by nature a storyteller, and my work has a strong narrative, no matter what medium or discipline I work in. I first started working with animation as an extension of performance art pieces, and the move into film was a natural and organic one.

Q: As a South African filmmaker, how do you find the film industry in South Africa and Africa in general?

A: As an animator, I am not really part of the ‘industry’ so my experience of the South African film industry is very limited. Even as an animator I function outside of the ‘animation industry’ which is mainly geared towards commercial work. What I do is more in sync with the tradition of independent auteur animators from Europe and North America. We make the kind of films where everything is done by three or four people, because there is no budget, and it is the only way you have control over your artwork.

Q: Your film “I Will Die and Go to my Father” is part of a series of short films called Filmverse that is comprised of a number of short films inspired by classical Afrikaans poems. Can you tell us a bit more about the project in general? What are the aims of it and why did you think it was important to create a series of short films inspired by Afrikaans poetry? Being yourself a speaker of the language, what does Afrikaans mean to you?

A: As I mentioned above, the animation industry in South Africa is mostly geared for commercial work. I am not. Even my most commercial attempts are still regarded as too ‘arty’ at home. My aim with this project was to create a platform for independent auteur animation in South Africa. To use poetry as a source for the films is both practical and ideological: The practical aspect has to do with marketability: You make films which people will want because they can use them for something – in this case, the films make an excellent teaching tool on both secondary and tertiary levels. My ideological motivation is that there are very specific things which poetry and animation have in common – timing, rhythm, the use of symbols and, condensation etc. So for me animation and poetry is an easy match; that is if you take a broader view of animation than the one that it is a medium for kid’s entertainment. So one of my aims with the project was also to build an awareness of animation as an art form. Afrikaans is a very young and vibrant language, with an amazingly rich and diverse literature. It is felt by many in South Africa that the language is under threat due to losing its official status. The language has a lot of political baggage that it is trying to shake. My aim with this project is not only to create cultural products – films- in the language, but to get those films seen around the world. Get them into festival so we can show ourselves, and the world, that this little language is alive and healthy, and can compete with the best out there.

Q: Regarding to your film, why did you choose this specific poem? Do you feel a particular interest or attachment to this poem or to its writer (Breyten Breytenbach) maybe?

A: My choice of this poem was an emotional one. I think I would have picked a different poem, had I been more rational about it. I was 50 when I made the film, an age where one increasingly become aware of your own mortality. Also my mother died the year before, and the poem creates such a beautiful, nostalgic vision of heaven, so the film is a tribute to her. And Breyten Breytenbach is arguably the best poet the language has delivered so far, so using his words is always an honour.

Q: You seem to have found a great medium of artistic expression in animated films. Why animation? What can you tell us about the techniques you use for the making of your films and this film in particular?

A: I like using a wide range of techniques and media, whether I am painting or animating. I am just too inquisitive to stick to one way. I love animation because it brings all my interests together – theatre, sound, visual arts, and storytelling. In this film I used my paintings as backgrounds. I tried to create nostalgic, surreal moods – vast allegorical landscapes through which the main character moves.

Q: Finally, what does it mean to you that your film and other films from the Filmverse project get to be screened outside of your country and Africa?

A: It is, for me personally, very important; I believe we have the imagination and talent to create world class independent short films which are unique. Funding is hard to come by if a project is not commercially driven. The 24 films we have made so far were done on an absolute shoestring, and I am greatly indebted to the artists who have done so much with so little to make this project successful. One of our films – an Ordinary blue Monday (Ronelda S. Kamfer), by Naomi van Niekerk – won the award for the best first film at Annecy this year. Another film, ‘What about the law’ (Adam Small) by Charles Badenhorst won two awards at Poetryfilm festivals in Portugal and Germany. Six of the first twelve films have been screened individually at various international festivals. I am happy that my belief was not unfounded, and I hope we will make many more poetry films in Afrikaans.

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