Q&A with director of TIFF doc Sea Point Days

South African filmmaker Francois Verster reveals his process and funding challenges for Sea Point Days, which just screened at TIFF.
September 15, 2008

The Jan Vrijman Fund from IDFA was one of the backers of your – did you ever pitch the film at IDFA’s Forum? If so, what was that like? Seems pretty nerve wracking…
The film received a production grant from the Jan Vrijman Fund, but we did not pitch it at IDFA. I pitched two previous films at the IDFA Forum, however: A Lion’s Trail and The Mothers’ House, and yes, it can be a pretty intimidating experience. A Lion’s Trail actually had a fantastic pitch: the film is about the African song ‘Mbube,’ which eventually became ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight,’ and to our happy surprise, when introducing the pitch our commissioning editor, Eddie Manzingana, started singing the original. So that went very well, with around 11 or 12 people saying they wanted the film. Producer Neil Brandt and I are hoping to pitch our next film, The Dream of Shahrazad, at the Forum later this year.

During the post-screening Q&A for Sea Point Days at TIFF, you said there were three filming periods that lasted about three weeks each and resulted in 180 hours of footage. How many broadcaster backers or funders did you have onboard before you started shooting?
Much of the film was shot almost without any funding at all, and production grants came in when we were already well into the process from the Jan Vrijman Fund, ITVS International (IMDF) and the Visions Sud Est fund. The film was completed on a minor percentage of full budget; as always seems to be the case with this kind of documentary, a lot of unpaid resources on my own and the two producers’ (Neil Brandt and Lucinda Englehart) behalves went into the making of the film throughout.

You use police video surveillance to show street crimes that occurred in South Africa. How difficult it was to get permission to use such archives?
It was hard to get through to the correct people at the South African Police, but once we managed this, permissions were given surprisingly freely. The only legal limitation was that we had to use footage that related to cases that had already been closed, or to incidents which had happened far in the past and were unlikely to lead to criminal prosecution.

In retrospect, is there something you would have changed about the process of making this film?
This is a hard question to answer. Finding funding for this film was harder than on any other I have made, so while I would like to say we should have held out longer for the full budget (we wanted to film some material on 16mm, wanted to be able to employ a larger professional crew for some sections, and so on), we did get to a point where we simply had to say, ‘We are finishing it no matter what.’ I do also wish we could have had a longer edit period (the latter kept on getting longer and longer beyond all expectations), but then again, one does have to have a cut-off point! Apart from that, there are some events that I wish I had been there to film… but so it goes!

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