“Ladybrille’s 15 Questions with . . .” is a feature which salutes some of the most important names in the fashion and entertainment industries around the globe, with a particular emphasis on Africa. We hope you are as inspired as we are with the brilliant men and women in these industries that make the world go round.
This week is all about the 19th Annual New York African Film Festival which begins today in New York. Our “Ladybrille’s 15 Questions With . . .” series highlights some of the key filmmakers and persons in the film industry that will be showing their films at the festival. Today’s feature is on Laura Gamse. Gamse a resident of Arlington, Virginia and the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship moved to South Africa to film ‘The Creators,’ her first feature film.
“The Creators is a 2011South African documentary film produced and directed by Laura Gamse which interweaves the lives of diverse South African artists including, Cashril+, Warongx, Emile Jansen of Black Noise, Markus Wormstorm and Spoek Mathambo of Sweat.X, Blaq Pearl and Mthetho Mapoyi. The full title of the documentary is The Creators: South Africa Through the Eyes of Its Artists.” – Wikipedia
The film has been gaining momentum and recognition among film industry circles as well as the media, including the Huffington Post. Enjoy.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Describe your businesses. What exactly do you do?
Laura Gamse: I’m a documentary filmmaker. I find interesting stories and subjects and film them for anywhere from a few months to years at a time. My first feature film, The Creators: South Africa through the eyes of its artists, will be screening at the New York African Film Festival on April 14th.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: How did you end up in your chosen field?
Laura Gamse: Great question, I never planned to be a filmmaker. I majored in college in Social Activism through Media and Art, which was a combination of Politics, Media Studies and Theatre. I studied revolutions, specifically looking at the effect of cultural expression (music, art, theatre and dance) on the success or failure of social movements. I started making films because it’s impossible to convey the dynamic range of human expression and passion in an academic paper. It’s also a great way to force people to sit down and look at juxtaposed realities, actually stay in the same room focusing on a foreign world for an hour and (hopefully) talk about it afterwards.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What has been the most difficult challenge you have faced in getting to where you are?
Laura Gamse:During the shoot for The Creators, half of my footage was stolen 10 months into my time in South Africa. This doubled the amount of time it took to finish the documentary and put me through a six month process of applying for finishing funds which never came through. I think most people in the documentary world will tell you it’s a hellish industry – it’s nearly impossible for the average independent film to make money unless the director is extremely lucky. I say lucky because the success of a documentary depends so much on relatively uncontrollable factors for a low budget filmmaker: the particular time in which you happen to shoot the subjects of the film, the crew who agrees to shoot the project for less than nothing, whether anything happens during the time you are shooting and whether your cinematographer had the camera in focus at that moment and the sound guy has all his instruments in working order. You wouldn’t believe the number of great moments we missed because of technical failures and human mistakes. For me, just about everyone involved in the project checked out before it was over (this was understandable since it took 2 years to finish, and people need to make money I couldn’t afford to pay them). The amount of rejection is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before (imagine walking through a crowd of potential distributors and funders and hearing no after no until you begin to doubt your sanity). Luckily, after a year-long festival run people have started to take notice of the film and our fortune is beginning to turn around.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: How do you define success?
Laura Gamse:There’s a great quote from anonymous graffiti during the May 1968 protests in France that translates to, “Your happiness is being bought. Steal it.” The term “success” can bring on all sorts of connotations of wealth, which I think is beside the point. Any time I get worried about that, I think of globalrichlist.com and realize that if I feel poor or undervalued, what am I saying about the 85% of people who make less than $5000 a year?
I think success is in the moment, in loving what you do. For me, I like to be in the process of creating things, projects, films, music, etc. If I’m in the process of creating something I believe in, I don’t desire anything else.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Where do you look to draw inspiration when the going gets tough and the tough gets going?
Laura Gamse: Music. Always. My good friend Jeff Kessel plays in the band Rifle Recoil, which I think someone described accurately as Euphriacore. Lately I’m into the Future Islands, I’ll always love the purity of Jesus Mary and Chain, and I’m on a spiritual quest to find the soul of Bob Marley.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Share with us your memory of the happiest moment in your life?
Laura Gamse: Let’s keep this one current. A good friend came down from New York last week and we spent the day at a secret rope swing by a stream here in Virginia. It’s a rope swing that has lots of history, and I haven’t had time to hang out with this friend in years. It was a beautiful day.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What keeps you awake at night?
Laura Gamse:Wondering whether I’m doing everything I could to help the many people I met in Africa who could use just a little bit of help – support for their businesses and careers as artists, etc. Also for those many who I didn’t meet who are struck with curable illnesses. I think about how all the money we spend on drinks, cars, lattes, could save lives, it’s indisputable but most of us live in denial of the fact.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What drives you?
Laura Gamse:The dream of one day being able to do something about (the things I just said keeps me awake at night). In a small way it is happening – Mthetho, the opera singer from my documentary, recently was invited to give a talk in NYC as a featured speaker at a TedxTeen conference. It was his first time in New York and you could just see the joy in his eyes. He made connections that will stay with him for the rest of his life, and hopefully support his career later down the line.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What makes you get up everyday to do what you do, all over again?
Laura Gamse:Good question. Amnesia, perhaps, like the chemicals that keep women from remembering the pain of birth after the fact. Making a film is not easy, and it is especially not easy when you have a low budget and very few crew members. I swear it off every time I do it. But I keep getting new ideas, and funding comes with time.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What are the daily principles you live by?
Laura Gamse: Be pure, yearn aggressively, and run as fast as you can into what you don’t know. As Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
LADYBRILLEmag.com: When all is said and done, what is the legacy you want to leave in the entertainment field?
Laura Gamse:I hope to interest more people in the diversity of worldwide art and entertainment, so that more western audiences will be connected with African, Asian, and South American musicians and artists. The selection of “Top 40” hits always bums me out, because there are incredible songs out there that are completely ignored by the industry and are thus lost to millions if not billions of people around the world. Similarly, there are so many incredible films that get short festival releases and are then buried by the media, while Hollywood pops out formulaic romantic comedies by the dozen. I want the average consumer to know that there is so much more out there.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What African artist are you currently playing in your Ipod?
Laura Gamse:Warongx, featured in my documentary, which is like the two-person resurrection of Bob Marley, done in afro-blues. (I hope that doesn’t offend anyone – I think he might be pleased by the comparison if he knew them.) Unfortunately they won a nation-wide contest which allowed them to record an album with Africa’s biggest production company, but the company buried the album and kept ownership of the publishing rights of the music, so I was unable to feature the music in the film. But they’ve got a lot of material and we got the less-polished moments.
I’m also entirely in love with the Swaziland musician Thobile Mcincinini. We shot her singing two of her songs, here and here.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Who is your favorite African male designer?
Laura Gamse:G-mo, he makes shoes in Cape Town.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What’s your favorite food to eat?
Laura Gamse:Grapefruit, miso soup and chocolate. Not in combination.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Laura Gamse:Create your own reality (via Mandie Kilotat)
Visit The New York African Film Festival for more details on venue and tickets to attend the festival.
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