Language and culture become such an inherent part of us that we often take it for granted, not of out disrespect, but merely out of habit or even ignorance. I recently discovered that the word fundi is derived from a Nguni word which means teacher; thus, the term is most apt for South African filmmaker Grant de Sousa.
He recently won the opportunity to host his own film festival through Cinema Nouveau, showcasing five films of his choice. As a testament to his passion, he sat through all five – a marathon session of 12 hours. This passion extends to his career and his knowledge and experience of the industry are evident. Based in Cape Town, Grant de Sousa is a commercials’ director and if you have seen the Nissan Navara or Aromat Cheese commercials, you will already be familiar with his work. He is also responsible for Conflict Free, a public service announcement he directed in conjunction with The African Diamond Council.
Few can boast of the fortune of pursuing the arts in almost any form full-time and although South Africa’s film industry is expanding, there are still obstacles to overcome. Grant believes the challenges facing South African filmmakers today are “resources…in terms of facilities. Luckily, things are improving and it’s going in the right direction.” He adds that another challenge is “oversaturation. There are too many filmmakers and not enough work. We need a bigger revenue stream, but how we’re going to get that I have no idea. There is a recession; every industry has suffered, but none more so than advertising. It’s strange because in the past advertising saved it”.
Needless to say, the career path Grant has chosen involves being part of a demanding industry; but as he contemplates his work and some of the best moments he has had in the industry, it is clear that the rewards are worth it. One of the things he enjoys most is “the reactions to your work, especially when they are the desired outcome and you draw out the intended emotion.” He also gets a lot of satisfaction from “the people I meet along the way…being on set and those moments of doing something as a team and acknowledging it.” You would be hard put to find artists of any calibre who would rather be doing something else and when I ask Grant about the alternatives he says “I don’t know. I have no idea. I can’t imagine doing anything else. Nothing else makes me happy.” After reflecting for a moment longer, though, he muses “Maybe a footballer…or I’d be in a band.”
Grant is one of the directors represented by the South African production company Frieze Films, who produce commercials. He would, of course, “love to do movies”. The film festival allowed a glimpse into the films, genres and directors that have influenced him and pointed to an affinity for his subject. Choosing the five films for the festival was a difficult task. Upon being asked what his favourite film is, the inevitable answer is: “there is no such thing”; and at the festival he admitted, “not adding Tarantino or the Coen brothers burnt me”. Narrowing down a favourite director is a bit easier, particularly as he chooses to confine his answer to “someone who is still alive and whose viewership I‘m a part of… [David] Fincher at the moment…and I’m very intrigued by J.J. Abrams.” It is no surprise then that if he could choose any (living) actor to work with, it would be Brad Pitt, a firm favourite with Fincher. Johnny Depp makes the list too. He is an actor whom Grant admires because, like Pitt, “he can create something completely new”.
A peculiar analogy could be applied to Grant de Sousa. He seems to be both sides of the same coin. From the phrase “in my lifetime”, which crops up throughout our conversation, it seems that when it comes to filmmaking Grant believes in keeping things current in order to stay relevant and up-to-date; yet he maintains a respect for the past, knowing there is still much to learn from it. His balance of the old and the new makes his thoughts about his future somewhat ironic, as he contemplates and then concludes: “I’m in transition. I’ll let you know when I’m there.”