Cape Town filmmaker zooms in on Afrikaans market
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
When Cape Town-born film director Maynard Kraak set up his own production company a few years ago, he wanted to make financially successful films and that meant he needed to capitalise on the Afrikaans market.
“Afrikaans films are making money,” says Kraak, originally from Penlyn Estate near Rylands suburb.
The catch is that Kraak, who defines himself as coloured, is making films for a predominantly white Afrikaner market that he wasn’t too familiar with initially.
“It’s not the easiest challenge to be English-speaking and coloured and make films for white Afrikaners. I had to get out of my comfort zone,” says Kraak.
“I am not part of the establishment and I have to make something for that audience.”
And while his last two films have raked in millions at the box office, Kraak still has to also deal with uncomfortable questions while navigating his way through the Afrikaans market and funding meetings.
“People see my name and assume that I’m white. One guy that I had a meeting with asked me if I’m Portuguese. At another meeting I was asked, ‘How coloured are you?’” says Kraak.
“I deal with people on a high level. I speak English and I don’t mix my languages. I don’t fit the coloured stereotype. But some of the people that I meet with have a mental block.
“They think in stereotypes. It’s the whole system. This is what you have to deal with. And you have to eat that elephant one bit at a time.”
Kraak’s success speaks for itself in Rand value though. His company West Five Films has produced four feature films. He has directed two of these films, including Sonskyn Beperk, opening in cinemas nationwide on March 11.
Kraak says Sonskyn Beperk is a romantic comedy-drama set on a farm just outside Cape Town.
“It’s the story of an Afrikaans young woman who returns to South Africa to her widower dad’s farm at a time of recession. She works on Wall Street (the financial district in New York) and has been living the dream with her American boyfriend,” says Kraak.
“She then gets word from her dad’s best friend, who is also the farm manager, that the farm is struggling. She believes it’s her duty to come back, as the only child, to help save the farm.
“She is carrying around guilt as well because she was not there for her father when her mom passed away. Her father has slight resentment that she was not there.”
Kraak says a love triangle also ensues as her American boyfriend heads south to meet her.
Kraak is hoping for success with this film after his directorial feature debut in 2014, Vrou Soek Boer, earned R5,7-million at the box office.
The second film his company produced, Knysna, made just under R5-million.
Kraak’s preparation for the Afrikaans market came via a previous job at a production company that made Afrikaans films and TV soapies.
Before that, he had directed local TV soapies Generations and Scandal.
Now he wants to make films that won’t flop at the box office.
“We need to make films that will make money. If you look at cinemas around the country now they have local films and that needs to make money otherwise we won’t get distribution,” he emphasises.
Kraak doesn’t plan on making only Afrikaans-language films though.
His company’s fourth film, its first in English, is due for release in a few months.
Kraak says he plans to also make films that tell stories of coloured people – but without entrenched stereotypes.
“There is so little relevance given to coloured people on South African TV. And whenever we see colored people on screen, they are stock characters,” says Kraak.
“They are either gangsters, drug addicts, abusive and don’t have teeth. And they all speak Afrikaans. That’s how other people see coloureds. That’s the racial stereotypes that have been cemented over decades.”
He adds: “We are so economically, culturally and religiously diverse as coloureds. We all grow up together in each other’s homes and we learn to be so tolerant of everybody. We find humour in difficult circumstances.
“I am going to make a film about coloured people. But these won’t be films that are called coloured films. It will be films that everyone can watch.
“I don’t want to be known as a coloured filmmaker. All these white filmmakers make films for people who are not white and they aren’t categorised. As soon as we make films for coloureds or blacks then we are pigeon holed.”
Given his track record of interesting career shifts, it is clear Kraak won’t be squeezed into boxes. He joined the navy when he left school because he “didn’t know what to do with my life” and “loved the idea of adventure”.
“After that I was a police detective, living character in my own movie. It’s a really tough job with pathetic wages, and risking your life all the time,” says Kraak.
“I was in the trenches. And I said no, this wasn’t what I wanted to do with my whole life. I then went to study drama and ended up directing.
“When I finished my first year of drama, I decided that I wanted to go to film school. I went to the United States and came back home via the United Kingdom where I studied film.”