Krêkvars: Lights, iPhone, action!

Huis Ma(n)delein2
Poster for Huis Ma(n)delein, a short film shot by film students on smartphones

The day on which three film students had to pitch a film to an illustrious panel including Malinda Nel of 7de Laan actor/director Kaz McFadden, they had nothing to put forward.

But Zoë Ras, Lara Lourens and Tharina Viljoen had a brainwave.

“It was very nerve-wrecking,” said Viljoen. “We got idea the idea we had to pitch it (on that day). And we didn’t even have script yet. We just had a storyline and a poster. And we just went into the room and gave everything we have. I think what grabbed the panel was shooting it on a smartphone. So we knew we could hit them with that.”

The film, called Huis Ma(n)delein, is an Afrikaans short about a film student who sneaks her two male friends into a female residence disguised as girls to show them what life is like in estrogen territory. Their challenge is not being caught with their dresses down. It premieres at the Krêkvars Student Arts Festival on Monday (22 July).

The trio shot the film three weeks ago (8 – 14 July) and began editing it last week, pulling “rushed” all-nighters. They had no budget. The primary location was at the Moroccan House guest house in Menlo Park, where they were allowed to shoot for free.

“It was quite something new,” Lourens. “The thing is there’s so much new technology that it makes it easier for young filmmakers. You don’t need expensive equipment, you can shoot it on your cellphone and still tell a story.”


Mobile Movie Magic: Film student Zoë Ras takes a video of Christiaan Schoombie, one of the actors in the short film that she and two other students shot almost entirely on smartphones. (Supplied)

Ras, Lourens and Viljoen join a small community of short and documentary filmmakers who are making a habit out of shooting their projects on smartphones. The practice is still in its infancy but is likely to continue burgeoning as mobile technology in camcorders, tablets and smartphones improves.

Most of the shots in the 20-minute film were taken with a Samsung Galaxy III and an iPhone. The others were shot on a handheld camera. Apart from battery life, being able to film only for a minute or two at a time and without a stand to prevent shaky shots was also a challenge. But the team embraced it. “We wanted to create a look (to show) it was shot from a phone. Movies are being made like that,” said Viljoen.

The biggest question which had to be asked was whether there existed available software to render footage shot from iPhone in order to edit it. McFadden supervised production and gave the students advice.

The three directors are second-year students at the Performing Arts Lifestyle Institute (PALI) in Pretoria east, which has shown films and plays every year at the festival since 2005.

Principal of PALI Shareen Swart admitted the submission panel was worried about the concept of shooting a film almost entirely on a cell phone.

“We were a bit worried … that’s really risqué,” she said. But after seeing some of the footage they became excited and she was proud of the three girls taking on such a unique project.

“I’m extremely excited and nervous. And they’re really doing groundbreaking work,” said Swart. “We just can’t complain being at a point in our generation where students have the guts to put forward a film shot completely on a phone that we actually thought it might be wonderful.”

“We just had to take the risk. Otherwise we wouldn’t learn,” said Lourens. “I think it will stand out. It’s something new regarding technology and it’s a fun, fresh plot.”

She said her team knew they were taking a risk but the object of making a film was to learn to make a film and how things work on a set. She hopes it will pay off.

“It’s worth it because it’s for the arts,” she said.


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