GEORGIE WEEDON OF GINGERWINK SPEAKS TO
DIRECTOR GABI MENEZES ABOUT HER FIRST FILM THE CURE FOR HOMESICKNESS
Georgie: Hello, and welcome Gabi!
Gabi: Thank you, Georgie.
Georgie: Nice to meet you.
Gabi: It’s so great to be here with you!
Georgie: So Gabi, you’ve had an amazing in career in journalism. You were the West Africa correspondent for Al Jazeera. You’ve reported on many, many issues across Africa and other countries and you’ve worked with the UN. You’ve now made this film and you’d say it your first documentary film even though you’ve made those at the news reports. What made you make this film?
Gabi: I was really interested in exploring something that wasn’t a traditional news documentary. I think that what I really want to do was explore an internal emotional journey rather than just have something that was sort of the outward events and report those. For myself, I really wanted to go back and explore this really important thing that happened to my family and that no one really spoke about.
When my parents moved from Zimbabwe, I was there; I was way studying. So this whole upheaval happened without me. And then afterwards no one ever spoke about it. There was this silence on all of these feelings, but you could kind of sense were there and you could kind of sense my parents didn’t really feel at home in the same way in Lisbon, but no one was ever talking about it. I think through my experiences as a journalist, I think that the camera gives you this wonderful sense of mission to go back and to do and to do interviews and people will actually tell you things on the camera that they wouldn’t necessarily tell you in normal life because I think that it becomes too emotional, whereas the camera suddenly brings the sense of distance to what’s going on. It gets that sort of a seal of approval that we can suddenly talk about these things you don’t want to speak about.
So when I was thinking of making a documentary, I really wanted to do something that was close to home, something I felt was really important to me and something that I have been grabbling with. I think that the subject, home, even though it’s been such a personal film, is something that everyone can relate to.
Looking at my friends and people whom are around me, there’s very few of them who have grown up and lived in a place that they consider home. I think that in my generation, movement and going to live in other countries has become something that’s really common. Even though it’s a wonderful thing to do, we don’t really come to terms with what we’ve lost by moving; how our roots are sort of changing; how we can’t necessarily regain that even if we go back to our place. So I feel like these are the subjects that I would like people to relate to when they watch the film and something that I really need to sort of explain through myself, and that’s the journey I hope that we take people on during the film.
Georgie: Right. You know what, I think we should go somewhere that’s slightly quieter.
Georgie: I’m going to keep this rolling.
Georgie: Because I just thought we could also make this into a podcast. So if you’re listening as a podcast person, we just made that decision right now. So welcome to crazy sessions. I think we might even go to the bathroom.
Georgie: Because at least we’re definitely won’t be disturbed there and we could just get into the groove.
[Moved into the the bathroom]
Georgie: Okay. Just keep talking so they can realize that there’s a lovely interview going on. If you are listening, then we have to put this out there. Welcome back.
Gabi: Welcome to the interview in the bathroom.
Georgie: Maybe this is the thing. Maybe this is the big thing, filmmakers in the bathroom.
Gabi: Filmmakers in the bathroom. Welcome to the bathroom interview.
Georgie: Welcome to the bathroom interview. RIght, we’ve locked the door so we won’t get disturbed. That was really cool, hearing about why you made the firm and getting more information about you growing up and your working life and as a young adult. So now, we’re resettling in. Yeah.
I guess one of the things that strikes me about watching the film is you are a journalist, you have been a journalist, and the film is very artistic. It has a very different kind of sensibility about it. It doesn’t feel anything like a news report, and I’m just interested in that, in why you chose to tell the story in that way.
Gabi: I think for me, because this is much more of an emotional exploration, than exploring an event or trying to sort of unravel something that happened, I felt really strongly that it needed to explore memory, it needed to explore our imaginations our links with our identity, because we are so much more than just daily life; we are all of these things.
For me, that’s sort of why I feel news documentary can’t capture a three-dimensional experience because a real documentary, it has to go into memory and emotion; it has to walk along this line in order to try and actually show people emotionally who someone is or who we are.
That is maybe the difference between a film and a news report. I think that a film, particularly in fiction, but I think that documentary is changing so much now that they’re borrowing so many of the techniques and narrative devices from fiction, but I kind of feel that fiction films have this visual language and great directors think about the visual beauty of something in a way that definitely in news, you just don’t think about, you’re like just get something like shaking footage, guy with a Kalashnikov and you’re kind of like, “Yeah, man, we got it”, and you put it out there. But there’s no sort of thought about the visual telling of the story, which I really want to happen in my film. I think particularly because it’s not pegged to an event and there’s no real drama in there, I’m not covering a war, that’s fine because I’ve covered enough wars and I think that these sort of emotions that we have are just as dramatic and just as powerful in a way something that we all can relate to. I think just to sort of think in images and how to convey that visually was really important to me. This is why it has this quite dreamy kind of feel to a lot of the images.
Georgie: Actually, just going back on something you’ve just said, I think it is a really poetic film. (Both laugh) Sorry we’re getting the giggles because we’re old friends, and we’re behaving as though we’re on Panorama. But on memory, the idea of presenting emotions and memory, then there is a fiction involved in that. I’m interested in that because obviously how you remember something changes over time and it can become a kind of fiction. And it does, I recreate stories the whole time, when I’m retelling what has happened to me in my life or other things, the way that you see things changes over time and I guess you could in some way call that fiction. I was interested if that was what you meant?
Gabi: Yes. I mean, partly. I mean, you can’t really remember things in HD, but this is kind of the feeling that you have when you blur things. The images are super imposed on each other. That’s the feeling I have when I think about memory. Nothing is completely accurate. But then in a way, I think “Does that matter? It’s all about stories that we tell ourselves cannot tell and the truths that we feel are right. I think that there’s maybe an emotional truth to things that we’re trying to reach and get at. I think this is also why I found news quite frustrating sometimes because there’s this feeling that you were just sort of showing people the surface of things, but the real sort of stories of things are never on the surface, that sort of thing that we locked inside of ourselves. But how you actually show this? Film is a visual medium; you need to be able to recreate a language to actually speak about these things.
Georgie: That totally makes sense. The next thing I wanted to talk about was identity.
Gabi: Sure. Well, I think growing up in Africa, I think my generations, quite particularly generations in Zimbabwe because we were post-independence generation, and everything was fought internally of in terms of race and color. If you weren’t black, it was sort of imposed on you that you weren’t really Zimbabwean, that you weren’t really African because an African person is black, and that was the strict definition that we were sort of facing. So I know for we interviewed sort of white people in the film and even black people in the film of my age and then we’re also struggling to define ourselves as African without being black. I think that this is not only Zimbabwean that’s sort of facing that question but it’s many minorities in Africa. It’s maybe in the South Africa that’s really made real efforts to promote its rainbow nation and say everyone has a place. But I think that given Africa’s history, it’s something that I feel that caused me so many issues about my identity. I have so many questions, so many, so I guess it was important for me to re-visit this issue in the film, and I felt that without at least bringing it up, a discussion about identity, an African identity, wouldn’t really be complete.
Georgie: Then just moving onto the personal side, this is a film that is hugely personal. It’s about you. It’s about your family. It’s about the impact of leaving your country and trying to make a new life in a new country, or many new countries and it’s you’re story. How was it for you making such a personal film?
Gabi: It's really challenging to make a personal film. You don't have any distance from the subject, and in my case I was not only directing the film but actually in the film. I was worried that the film would feel like a vanity project, so I really tried to make the link to other people's experiences of home, to emphasize the point that this is a universal subject.
I think when you are in a film, you have to edit it differently because it can't feel like you are trying to portray yourself in a flattering light. It needs to have some honesty and grit. So, the beautiful shots of myself wandering around at sunset are hardly used. As one editor pointed out, 'You're not trying to make a l'Oreal ad.
On a very emotional level it was a difficult film to make, but there was also some catharsis in exploring these issues that my parents had never spoken about with the rest of the family. In many ways, I feel that this was a film that I had to make, that was bubbling away for many years. In the words of Robert Frost, the film started with 'a big fat lump in my throat, a homesickness, or a love sickness."
Georgie: And that brings us on to influences, which films and filmmakers have inspired The Cure for Homesickness?
Gabi: The late Chris Marker was a huge influence on the form of the film. I guess that essay films are unusual, because they tell people a lot of things, and don't necessarily show them, so you are going against the rules of Film 101. But in his film, Sans Soleil, Chris Marker proved that essays can work, can be thought provoking and mesmerizing. I go back so often to Sans Soleil, it is one of the most inspiring things that I've watched in terms of re-defining film, and opening up the possibilities of what it can be.
Wim Wenders is also a influence because he is such a great director in both fiction and documentary, and mixes techniques from both genres. My background is journalism, and so it is the fictional aspects of film that I know least about, and so perhaps feel the most drawn to to try and explain our humanity.
Georgie: And what next for you? Where do you think this film has taken you, and what next?
Gabi: You know after years of covering conflict, natural disasters, and political events, I don't think that I really learnt that much about human nature. It is emotional stories and journeys that really interest me, what we love and how we love. In the end, this is what we most value. I'm fascinated by the story of the only women grafitti artists in Afghanistan, and how despite the repression of women they are driven to make art, and express their internal worlds. And there are some ideas for a documentary about love letters during a war, and how modern life has changed communications during distance. We’ll see what’s next!
Georgie: Thanks Gabi, great talking with you!
Gabi: You too!
FOR MORE INFO ON GABI OR THE FILM CONTACT
Georgie Weedon: firstname.lastname@example.org