If you think there is no film industry in Namibia, think again! Smooth camera work, masterful articulation, writing that can be described as declamatory as the author expresses his thoughts in film, crisp audio and linear narratives are some of the aspects that could make the local films look and feel more like the productions that grace movie theatres across the globe. One cannot talk about film making in Namibia and not mention Perivi Katjavivi. And if the name sounds familiar; Perivi is the writer and director of the trending film ‘The Unseen.’
The Aquarian who’s always had the desire of making films since the age of eight was born in Oxford, England to an English mother and a Namibian father. He moved to Namibia just before independence in the late eighties and has spent the majority of his life here.
When it all began ?
Perivi has been in the film industry ever since the setup of his production company Old Location Films in 2008. To date, he has written and directed four short films and one feature length film. His most recent film ‘The Unseen’ can be described as a film that unfolds more like a conversation than a narrative. “It follows the story of three wandering souls as they navigate the emotional and physical realities of post-colonial Namibia. Firstly, Marcus who’s an African American actor tasked with portraying one of Namibia’s historical leaders. Seeking authenticity in his craft, he embarks on an earnest research mission to unveil the true history of his character. Then there is Anu, a talented local musician who is having trouble negotiating between his influences and identity. Lastly, there is Sara, a depressed young woman uncertain of whether or not her environment provides anything worth living for,” narrates Perivi.
The film maker is of the belief that a film must do more than just entertain. “We are also griots and shamans who take the past, the present, the future, myths, drams, ideas and emotion and weave them together to affect our reality, to communicate with the hearts and minds of our people. I’m interested in this first and foremost, before questions of economic gain or entertainment value. I’m also interested in pushing the boundaries in terms of what a film can be. Also, language becomes a big thing for me in a portion of the film. Can you think in your own language? Do you think in your own language? Do you think in English? How does that affect you? – are some of the things that come across,” he says.
Something else that sparks his interest is the space within which the film is made, from how the film maker sees the world and working creatively from there? He further notes how film making is imposed in Southern Africa as coping on others’ model, with someone else judging what is good and what is defined as art. “This becomes a mask that obscures our ability to see ourselves for what we truly are. This is suffocating the emergence of any original voices.”
Having been in the industry for about nine years, Perivi says that having ‘The Unseen’ screen at last year’s Busan International Film festival, the biggest film festival in Asia and rated one of the top ten festivals in the world is his biggest accomplishment thus far. Perivi also mentioned that his recent film ‘The Unseen’ is his favourite because with each film he grows a bit as a filmmaker and try and learn new things. It’s also allowed me to deal with some of my own personal issues, which is he regards as a bit of a gift and a curse for artists. “Our work allows us to intonate and cathartically deal with ourselves and the world and come out on the other end more enlightened for it,” expressed Perivi. He also adds that he is grateful for having been able to make the film as it’s helped him establish himself outside of Namibia as a filmmaker of note.
The film director admits that he also faces challenges saying that ideas are not a problem to him but access to financing in what remains a very corrupt and unequal industry is. He’s had an honour to work with Antonio David Lyons from ‘Hotel Rwanda,’ ‘American History X’ and local South African soapies like ‘Generations’ and ‘Scandal,’ until recently. On the local front he names some of the talented local filmmakers like Oshoveli Hiveluah, Cecil Moller, Ronald James, Joel Haikali, Senga Brockerhoff, , Shalongo Nambala and Mathew Ishitile.
If not filming then…
Perivi said that his interest lies in looking at social political affairs and distilling higher truths. “I’m interested in issues centred on decolonization and finding new ways to look at film and history. I’ve presented a paper Black Film, White Mask on white portrayals of black masculinity in South African films and have also presented guest lectures at universities including the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London and NTU in Nottingham,” he explained. Currently, Perivi tutors twentieth century history to undergraduates at the University of the Western Cape. “I’m interested in sustainable farming and horticulture. I’m a music producer. I’m a tortured Arsenal fan. I’m big on green tea, meditation and mysticism. And I like to travel and meet people who are changing the world in both small and big ways,” he adds.
People can expect more festival screenings for ‘The Unseen,’ starting with a special screening organized by the First Wednesday film club in Johannesburg in early April. It will be followed by the New Voices in Black Cinema festival in Brooklyn New York and then their play in competition at Innsbruck in Austria in May.
“I’m really excited that we’ve been able to secure a sales agent, Flourishing Films, based in Los Angeles to handle worldwide sales of ‘The Unseen’ and hope to launch it on various distribution platforms later this year. In the meantime I’m developing a gritty TV series set in Katutura, another low budget arthouse film and a post-apocalyptic passion project,” concludes Perivi.
Perivi holds a BA in Cinematography, with a major in Directing and a minor in Screenwriting from Columbia College Hollywood in Los Angeles and a MA in African Cinema from UCT. Currently, he’s a PhD candidate in Visual History at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.