Cinema Rautenbach: Storyteller

Rautenbach: Storyteller

Jans Rautenbach lyk soos enigiemand se Oupa. As South Africa’s most celebrated and controversial filmmaker, Think!Fest sat down with legendary Jans Rautenbach to discuss his career and role in film.

“I’m quite frightened of these cameras in front of me,” he says during his talk, which was heavily attended by the press.

“It’s quite unthinkable that I’m still around,” Rautenbach adds. Born in the mining town of Boksburg in 1936, he spent his childhood playing in mine dumps of cyanide sand. Coming from a poor background with very little money. the big screen set him off on his path.

“I started creating my own characters from stories I had heard about, pirates and things like that,” he says.

Surprisingly, Rautenbach initially studied criminology and psychology, which led him to becoming the head of Witbank Prison in his 20s. Before long, he quit to pursue his passion.

“I was so mesmerised by this whole thing of movies,” he says. Jamie Uys knew of his love for film and theatre, and hired him in 1963. This is when he met Lebanese film director Emil Nofal and established the friendship that ultimately led to his becoming a director. When they were filming Wild Season (1967) at sea, Nofal suffered from such terrible sea sickness that Rautenbach had to fill in for him.

“I had never been to film school but Emil asked me soon after if I want to make a movie. Whatever and whoever I am is because of him,” he says.

Rautenbach’s reputation partly derives from the film that followed, Die Kandidaat (1968), a multifaceted drama depicting a group of Afrikaner intellectuals struggling with moral, ethical and racial issues in apartheid South Africa.

Die Kandidaat changed the face of white cinema in SA. That film was followed by two more provocative works, Katrina (1969) and Jannie Totsiens (1970).

“I’m going back to a time that is now forgotten,” admits Rautenbach. “We’re in such a rush for democracy [that] we forget the hell it was if people were known as ‘non-white,’” he says, directing remark at how Nofal and other people of colour were treated.

The Akademie vir Weetenskap en Kuns (Academy for Science and Art) enabled Rautenbach to make films and voice touch on controversial issues in an otherwise complacent Afrikaner nationalist culture. Rautenbach believes that when the moment comes to show courage, “you put up your hand and say ‘I’m here’.”

Last year Rautenbach released Abraham, his first film for 35 years. Asked about his long silence, he says that he went on a one-year sabbatical that lasted three decades.

“I dined in the best restaurants the world over, slept in the fanciest hotels,” he says of his wilderness years.

“I ate dry bread and drank black coffee under the sky with shack dwellers. I became part of humanity, the stars, the earth.” He learnt to bury the past, and to hold the newborn present; to love and to cry.

“I learned that we’re all the same,” he adds. Six feet under the ground we’re all the same.”

Jesame Geldenhuys
Cue student reporter

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