The Vent sat down with Cold Harbour actor Tony Kgoroge and director Carey McKenzie, the pair share their of their thoughts on their upcoming film which hits SA shores Friday,25 July 2014
What is Cold Harbour about?
“Cold Harbour is a Thriller set in Cape Town; it’s about a township cop that takes on police corruption. He uncovers a Heroin smuggling syndicate, and gets himself into a heap of trouble. We have Tony Kgoroge in the lead role, Fana Mokoena, and Deon Lotz, the rest of the spoiling cast are filled out by Thomas Gumede and Zolani Mahola. The only foreign actor is a Chinese actress called Yu Nan who was in Expendables 2.”
What inspired this story?
“I am a “Capetonian” and I wanted to do a film in which Cape Town was character. I’ve been very inspired by genre films from the 70s, like “Bullitt” – Steve Mckee movie, and “Gate Carter” and both of those films are specific to a city…Bullet is set in San Francisco, and Gate Carter is in New Castle.
I always felt that Cape Town had the potential, and I wasn’t seeing it in the foreign Co-Productions that were coming in, they’d use Cape Town for something else. The perlemoen stories always come up, there’s always something in the press every few months. There were stories while we were shooting and again when we were editing, and it just never stops.
It’s an organized crime arena which is unique to Cape Town, but has both environmental reunifications and social reunifications because the perlemoen gets out and the drugs come in, and the drugs are having a bad effect on communities in Cape Town. I saw Tony on “Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon”- Khalo Matabane, and I just said that guy…could be a proper action hero. We didn’t have that sexy, cool, dangerous guy in South Africa, and I wanted to do that and that’s when I slowly put elements together.”
How long did it take you to develop the script and characters?
“It took a while; I did about a year of work before I met Thembeka-the Producer (Thembeka Matatu) and once he and I teamed up, he had input and I started to work with the NFVF (National Film and Video Foundation) and there was probably another year of Development.
Then there was a world financial crisis, and everything stopped. We were at a pitching forum in New York when “Lehman Brothers” crashed and we had no idea, it was like “oh something just happened at Wall street” and we were like “oh whatever” because we’re working, and then the next day the people we were supposed to meet just didn’t show up. So the money was not there, we both worked on other things and it came around again.”
Do you think your vision came to life from script and screen?
“Yes it’s different; it’s not the film that I saw in my head when I was alone. What happens is, a film is not the vision of one person; a film is a marvellous network of collaborations. I had an idea, the movie I saw in my head, I tried to put on a page and that became the script.
As soon as you involve other creative people, they bring themselves, and then it becomes something else. The film is the cousin of the thing in my head? But the thing in my head was mine alone, and this film isn’t mine alone.
The actors gave the characters life, the Cinematographer, Head of Departments, everyone contributed and sometimes they surprise you.
One of the things I strive to do as a Director is to be present and available to what’s happening. Whether I’m in a recording section with a musician, or on the set with an actor, I am there so that I am able to let go of my pre-conserved notion of what I want, if something better happens.”
Are you saying what you saw on screen is better than your vision?
In recent years there has been number of South African movies centering around gangsterism such as Tsotsi, How to steal a million, iNumber Number, Four Corners etc, why do you think this is the case?
“Crime stories make good cinema, because people do stuff…they don’t just talk about doing stuff. They get up, people play out their anger or desire in the physical arena, it becomes action, and the character is action. But this is not a gangster film; it’s a Thriller that has some gangster characters. I really enjoy gangster films, and I think part of our fascination with them is that gangsters have a private code.
It’s almost as if once they collectively decide to break the law, then they make up their own rules, so that it doesn’t become chaotic in their organizations. So like, vows of silence or code of honour, and that’s my fascination and why I have a gangster character. He is very honourable in his way, and I think there’s something romantic about that, that people respond to. It’s kind of an old world value like “you’re going to be my friend until we die!” maybe it’s a child thing, like “yes, we’re best friends, and we going to make blood” and it’s cool but KILLING PEOPLE IS NOT COOL.
The strong sense of loyalty is very appealing, and we all want friends that will last forever, and to feel protected. I worked on a film in Jamaica and we needed the protection of a gangster in Trench town, he wouldn’t negotiate with me because I’m a woman, he negotiated with my fixer, Collin. We reached an agreement and I was going to make a donation to the orphanage.
On the night we had these bandanas; it was the most badass dirty dancing, drugs, and sound system on the street, Trench town 04:00 in the morning. There’s me and a film crew, the actors are teenagers and I was the Producer so I was responsible for them. I felt completely save, cause I had this thing on my arm and so did everybody else, and nobody was going to touch us and I realized that this thing really worked and I loved that feeling.
The freedom of not having to worry about someone trying to rob my camera, or the fact that I’m a white girl in a really black town, I had this little bubble around me that said “Do Not Fuck With Her”. The seduction of feeling so protected is amazing, but then you’re colluding with murderers. SPECIALIST is the name of the Jamaican gangster.”
So you created that character in the film with the Jamaican gangster in mind?
“Yes, from that time. That guy wouldn’t even look at me, they are so macho! I had to have conversations with him while looking away from him; it was like I was invisible.”
Do you think the film is a true reflection of gangsterism in Cape Town?
“That’s tricky because the gangsterism in Cape Town is known for places like Maningburg and Lavender Hill, and this is not set in that world. This is the world of the police, but also of the old loyalties of two men that were comrades together. The perlemoen business In Cape Town is completely run by “coloured gangs” and my story is about a black gangster that wants to take that over, he wants a piece of that action because they are making a hell of a lot of money. I spoke to one actor about playing the coloured gangster and he said “I can’t do this, my friends wouldn’t like it”, his friends (whoever they are) wouldn’t like to see him acting in something that represents a black gangster taking over from a Coloured gangster because our society is so racially defined.”
So you’ve never considered having the Lead Actor as a Coloured Guy?
Do you think South African film is finally ready to compete internationally?
“Yes I do, I really look forward to a time where it’s not “South African film” and we’re just filmmakers, in the same way I just wanted to be a filmmaker and not a “woman filmmaker”. I hope as there are more and more films being made, and there’s a greater variety of voices, styles and genres, that there’s no collective identity for South African films anymore. They just know the film is made in South Africa but they are not all a certain way.
Are we ready to compete internationally? I think we are doing it. It is happening, little by little. The places that we’ve broken through most recently have been in the art-house arena, Olive Hermanus has done very well, he had a film in Cannes, and he has another high-profile film in post right now. Jahmil Qubeka’s film “Of Good Report” has done very well. What’s interesting though is that “Of Good Report” was a festival darling internationally, did South Africans go and see the film? Not really.
One other thing that I wrestle with a bit is that sometimes in the international arena, there’s a certain expectation of what an “African film” can be like. Historically most of the African films have been art house films in the festival circuit, and I think films like “Of Good Report” or “Skoenhuise” they fit on some level into that framework because they are art house films. I’m trying to make much more commercial, broadly accessible film, which I hope is still very stylish and interesting…I don’t want to make silly movies; I want to make intelligent entertainment.”
In your opinion, what needs to be done to develop the South African film industry?
“I think the hardest parts are getting money for Development, to have money to work on good scripts; we need good scripts to make good film. At the moment, the only source of development money is the NFVF, they have a very particular mandate, they supported this film and their support was essential. I think they are doing well in important work, but we are talking about a hand-full of individuals who are then in charge of dishing out money.
We need a greater variety of sources for finance, a greater variety of decision makers, deciding what to back, because then we’ll get a greater variety of movies coming through the works. I think any organization is going to decide “yes, this is what I think works, this is what we are interested in” and they will take the projects that fit that, so I think that would be very helpful.
I worked with two Editors on this film; one of them is South African expert in the UK, she’s had most of her career over there and apprentice with one of the best editors there. She learned so much from that experience, I think that’s something that we don’t quite have having yet in the Post-Production arena.
You can be an intern on a set, and you can be a trainee in the Camera department etc. and you can learn about production. People who want to be Trainee Directors, or Trainee Editors, or creative Heads of Department Trainees, I think it’s harder to get yourself into situations where you can be mentored, where you can learn from people working at a very high level.
We don’t have many years of Feature filmmaking, post 1994 here, so we do not have five generations of Movie editors that you can go and work for. I’ve heard stories where she worked for Jim Clark, on productions like “The Mission”. She said she would be there with a Mr. Min in the morning, just cleaning the screen…but then, she gets to sit in the room and just listen. It would be great if we had more of that. As filmmakers we learn from doing and from being surrounded by experienced people.”
Why should people see Cold Harbour?
“Because it’s dope.
I think it’s an entertaining movie that doesn’t treat you like you’re stupid. These actors did really good work, we have amazing performances, and I think the music is super cool. I can give you a little scoop today, that we are just releasing a track, which is collaboration between Spuku Mathambo and Zolani Mahola.
They have never done anything before; it was hilarious and fantastic to have them in the studio together…she was so nervous, she’s like “he’s so cool, I’m not as cool like he is” and I’m like ‘dude, you’re a fucken pop star, what is your problem?!” but they did the closing credits track together. There’s lots of really crazy creative chemistry in this film, and I hope people will enjoy that. It was a big collaborative adventure.”