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About Jenna Cato Bass

I'm a director, writer, photographer, aspiring explorer and retired magician living in Cape Town, South Africa

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People, decisions, more music & surprises

Posted December 26, 2008


So, despite today being a public holiday, it has nevertheless been fruitful.... yes? yes.
Thanks to a coincidental meeting at a Penderecki concert I met up with John Swartz, a friend of my parents who lives round the corner from me and who happens to be incredibly knowledgeable, despite his protestations to the contrary, about Zimbabwean music and its traditions. He's a music producer in his own right and after assuring me he had very little music that would be appropriate at his house, he then lent me a massive stack of CDs which I'm making my way through now. It not only contains music by Mapfumo and Mtukudzi who I spoke about before, but some mbira music (my favourite) which is absolutely mind blowingly awesome. It's so amazing I wish that, like Dyana, I was making a musical. So, I tentatively broached the subject of John being music supervisor on The Tunnel. And he's interested which is very good news - he's already got some amazing ideas. I think this really is the way to go - I generally love being really involved in my own soundtracks (to the extent that I have been doing them myself for my last three films. that "involved"), but here I feel that I'll need help to really do it justice.  so yay.
I've decided to go with Yvette and Cassidy of Substance Films to produce. I haven't told them yet, but that's the decision. As you can tell, I've been procrastinating for far too long, mainly because producers make me anxious (not a good thing) and I so badly want to make the right choice. But as soon as the festive season is over we need to get started. And now we will. I'll call them tomorrow. 
My friend Bevan is down from Durban and completely out of the blue I asked if he'd be interested in shooting. OK, this isn't as random as it may sound: he's actually an excellent cinematographer - we studied together but have never worked together. But I somehow I thought this would be a good idea- Let's leave it at that because I suddenly feel awkward about singing his praises online. He knows how good he is. I do have some other excellent options for DOPs, but let's see how this goes... If Bevan can do this before he leaves for London next year.... that'd be grand indeed. 
Also had a meeting with Tumi who I met while I was assisting on a massive TV set - I'll just say he's a far better AD than I am (I'm pretty awful. This meeting was probably the best thing that came out of the whole experience). But he's also very keen to work on the film, and the more enthusiastic people I can find, the better. 
Also met a Zimbabwean guy called Mike on Tuesday- I took his number (he was pretty bemused by this) and will try find somewhere to cast him. He just has an amazing look - you know how some people do? Quite scary actually. 
I know I said this before, but I've been reading Mike Leigh on Mike Leigh and wow, what a book. It may be one of the best books on filmmaking I have ever read. I really have the utmost respect for that guy. In every way - in how he approaches film, his method, his assurance, his own movies, life and art in general. So that is an inspiration I recommend. 
Another is that I have finally seen (and this is a big deal for me) Mr Lonely - I've been waiting for so long for it to come here in any form and was beginning to lose hope when lo! after a particularly awful day I went to my local dvd store and there it was. wow. A very very interesting film. Harmony Korine has been a hero for a while so you can imagine the excitement. Despite the few problems I have with it, I do have this to say: what a pleasure it is, to see a film, a contemporary film, which surprises you. Harmony, if you ever read this: Thank you. To be given a film which not only surprises and delights on a plot level, but in every way, this is so unusual, which is strange as it is one of the most vital parts of story telling. Surprise. The Gap (as Robert McKee says, as much as I hate to quote). This isn't even counting the movie's great performances, it's striking, clear imagery (the nun with the monkey!!!! Werner Herzog with the flowers!!! Werner Herzog!!!!!!!), it's awesome soundtrack. Surprise, in its purest, most innocent form. That's what I want. 
OK OK a brief PS. I'm listening to a song called Toputika Neshungu by a group called Mbira De Nharira.  It sums up my whole film, is ecstatically beautiful, made me cry, and this is how it's described on the CD: "There is so much to say about the state of affairs in the world regarding religion and trade, love and hate, peace and war, that all of it cannot be said in one song. The whistling and humming gives one a chance to fill in their own words."
what more can I say? That's my movie.


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Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow?

Posted December 18, 2008


I'm not sure how anyone else feels about music in films, but for me I think music is what made me want to make movies. I'd listen to songs and pictures would come into my head. There had to be some way to do this as a job..... (after, of course, careers as an vetinarian, astronaut, ballerina on ice had been exhausted, thought my 10-year old self). Besides from the obvious step into music videos, which has formed the bulk of my (good) work, music goes beyond that for me, and is often the inspiration for entire scenes, if not a story itself. That's very often how I work. But for The Tunnel, that's not how it happened, and so I've been going backwards, looking for music to listen to while I do the re-write and pre-production. It's so important for me, and I think one single song can contain more information than all the books I've read as part of research. I'm talking specifically of the music that would have formed the aural environment of 1980s Zimbabwe. I've always been in love with the mbira, a Zimbabwean thumb piano, and a few years ago while looking for a soundtrack for a documentary I was doing, I'd unearthed a 70s LP of my mom's called Vibrant Zimbabwe: Sacred and Secular Music from Kwanongoma College of Music. Unfortunately it's a Swedish edition so I can't read anything about it, but still, what a gem. I wish I could post some songs from it here.... but the legal implications give me a headache. 
But if anyone is interested in some Zimbabwean music, something I'll be looking out for is Chimurenga music - songs of the struggle before liberation, sung mainly in Shona. Jonathan, a Zimbabwean in South Africa who is a play-write, actor, musician, comedian and storyteller (his own life story is worthy of a film), who I was lucky enough to meet during my research, recommends Thomas Mapfuno and Oliver Mtukudzi. On a completely seperate note (and this is how I get distracted so easily), while I was in NY I got to hear mugham music from Azerbaijan at the Met. awesome.
But before we I leave the topic of music... here's a bit of shameless self promotion - my latest music video for South African musician Eksteen Jacobsz aka The Sick Leaves (there's one of him in the band... his band name is a plural... I too was confused at first). It's a cover of Everything But The Girl's hit "Missing"... enjoy...



The editor on this video, Jacques, my long-time and long-suffering collaborator, will also be editing The Tunnel.  He's good, worked on all my music videos and my experimental short, Jellyfish, and he gave me Leigh on Leigh for my birthday which scored him some significant extra points. It's a great book, whether you know Mike Leigh's work or not (though I hope everyone has seen Naked, one of my favourite films of all time). He's a real hero of mine (Mike Leigh, I mean, though Jacques is cool too), and when I got to see him talk at this years Berlinale I was so enraptured I promptly forgot everything he said. Except his parting words which were: DON'T COMPROMISE. (wow)
Yesterday I met with two producers (working together) who are interested in taking on The Tunnel. They have a lot of experience in TV, commercials and funding, far more experience than me at least. They are also committed to running green productions, which I think is a major plus. Finally, they're very keen to work on the project and that is the most important thing. But choosing a producer is a big decision, as I've learnt what a make-or-break decision it can be. And seeing as this is such an important film, I want to get this right. Sooner or later, however, we'll all have to jump into the deep end....
Today I snuck into the University of Cape Town's library to find some choice research literature, only to be foiled by the librarian who wouldn't let me take books out. blast. I've been looking around for books by Jocelyn Alexander who has made 1980s Matabeleland her field of expertise and also Beggar Your Neighbours by Joseph Hanlon which is about South African subterfuge in its neighbouring countries. sigh. a topic for a whole new film itself..... ah well, there are always photocopies....


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Posted December 13, 2008

If I could give an early christmas present to all aspiring filmmakers out there... actually anyone interested in film full stop... I would give them I AM CUBA which I saw the other day and which almost made my head explode with its brilliance. It's lucky the film was in black and white and projected off DVD instead of 35mm, otherwise I'd be too incapacitated to write this now.

Sadly, I don't think buying that many copies of a DVD is practical. and there's postage. 


So for now, as a replacement, here is an awesome interview with Wes Anderson

enjoy. I did.



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Producering and other words...

Posted December 12, 2008

Hi. Hello. The week to come will be known as "The Hunt for a Producer" - The backstory, such as it is, is as follows: My work this year has been with a small Cape Town production company - we have gotten on extraordinarily well (for the most part) and produced some great work (I'd like to think) against all low-budget odds (fact), but for a while now I've known that, as it goes goes with young companies, their focus for the coming year will be on commercial projects. If we're to be honest with ourselves, to do this short justice I'll need someone who can really dedicate time and effort to the project and take responsibility. This is something I've learnt, even though it may seem obvious. So, while not a complete farewell, as they'll definitely still be involved, it is still a bit sad for me. But, exciting times ahead no doubt! Working with new people is, after all, one of the joys of this job. 
It's still a bit of a tricky business as most people of my age or position are either still studying or hell-bent on making money (and I say that with the utmost admiration), but I've set up meetings, varying from the strategic to the coincidental, and hopefully good things will come. soon. very soon.
From the re-write side, it continues. I've been meeting up with Zimbabweans, trying to get a better idea of the country and its atmosphere. Most importantly, what it feels like to live there. Most of the men I've spoken to so far are refugees from the poverty, unemployment and disaster of their country. So I feel a bit strange telling them the film is set in the 80s and won't be exposing the events which have directly affected them.  But I still hold to the fact that the events in my film allowed the events of today to happen, and besides, the themes are of international relevance. I also tell myself sometimes that I am not a political filmmaker, but at the same time I doubt whether it's possible to to ever avoid politics in film. We might be entertainers, but I don't think any of us should underestimate the power of film when it comes to hearts and minds. hearts and minds. who's with me on this?
In other thoughts, just skimmed through the line-up of films for this years Sundance. How exciting. I am excited. Pity it'll take about 10 years for those films to get to Cape Town. Alright, an exaggeration I admit. Sorry. 
Also on this site: an interview with David Lynch about sound! wowee- I've just emailed it to everyone I know. Almost.
When it comes to blogging I'm never sure what people expect. So, in a meagre effort to keep up with the Jones's (in this case people who surpass me on the cool-scale by infinite amounts) I've been reading some of the other great blogs on this site and have discovered that like me, Mike Figgis reads many books at once. One less thing to worry about. At the moment, and I think I can indulge in this seeming divergence because it relates to my film, but as far as books go I am really impressed by Ben Okri at the moment. Blown away is more accurate. 
As bloggers do, I recommend. Highly. 
But I'm just looking at this post and realizing it's more words and no pictures (horror of horrors for filmmakers)  - i'll try remedy that next time. 

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And now it really starts....

Posted December 02, 2008

So, a very belated dispatch from the final days in America and the subsequent return to Cape Town:
What I loved about my time in the States is the way you bump into people, meet people, welcome or unwelcome, but in a way which never fails to surprise. Whether it was Wanuri, Edouard, Jan Hendrik (who I knew already, but still ;) and Dyana, my fellow filmmakers, an awesome New Yorker who told me why the apartments facing the UN have no windows, Mark and Lucille (travellers from Jersey who entertained me with stories of haunted island orphanages), my first real 70s hippy (Goa in 71 - wow), other travelling South Africans (we're everywhere) or even disgracefully embarrassing myself while trying to say hi to Paul Dano after watching the Seagull (which also has henceforth changed my views on theatre completely, but that's another story).
As you can probably imagine (and as anyone who spoke to me whilst in NY will know), this barrage of new things, new ideas, made getting down to work quite an overwhelming task. During my sessions with our panel of experts, a lot of questions arose about my film, as they tend to do, and the tumult of the weekend meant that I had to return with many things unanswered. 
Its now summer in Cape Town. An interesting time. Right now I should be resuming the gritty business which is the hunt for extra funding. But, I've been in that dodgy frame of mind of being generally uncertain of everything - common, I'm sure, but no less reassuring because of it. And I can't pursue funding until I am completely certain of the script. So things have been plodding while I remind myself what it is we're doing here, until yesterday when epiphany finally struck and things feel more on track again than they've been for a while. Fingers crossed. It's possibly to early to talk about this now, but just think: Arabian Nights....
But something which is still bothering me is the matter of location: Shooting on location is very important to me and I am loathe to shoot anywhere inauthentic, especially as the setting is not my own country. In the past I've done it, using a field outside of Cape Town as a substitute for Angola, but really, and possibly idealistically, this a kind of filmmaking I hope to move away from if I can at all help it. Yes, Werner Herzog is my hero. Let's leave it at that for now. But, anyone who has been following the terrible Zimbabwe situation at all will know how impractical such a shooting policy is at the moment. Can my film be set South Africa? or do I swallow my ideals? ...... yikes. 

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