Jenna Bass is a director and writer whose work has premiered around the world, including Sundance, Berlinale, Göteborg, Busan, and Durban International Film Festivals, where she has been heralded as ushering in a ‘New Wave’ of South African cinema. Her previous works include “The Tunnel” and “Love the One You Love
.” Bass is the editor and co-creator of Jungle Jim
, an illustrated pulp-literary magazine for African fiction. She is currently engaged in a Vr collaboration with artist, Olivie Keck and indie game developers, Free Lives, as well as co-writing a fantasy animation feature screenplay for “Sanusi Chronicles.”
“High Fantasy” will premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival on September 8.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
Jb: “High Fantasy” is a found-footage body-swap satire from South Africa. It follows
a group of four young South African friends on a camping trip to an isolated farm where they inexplicably swap bodies.
Capturing their predicament on their phone cameras, they must deal with all the complications that come from being another race or gender in the so-called Rainbow Nation.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
Jb: Like a lot of South Africans of my generation, I’d been profoundly moved by the Fees Must Fall university protests in 2015 which, while demanding accessible, decolonized education, highlighted the extreme inequality in our country that has barely shifted since democracy arrived in 1994.
The movement brought to light the very complex identity politics around race, class, gender, sexuality, and ownership that inform every aspect of our society, and for some time I was looking for a way to capture that zeitgeist for an audience of that generation.
At the same time, these issues are still undoubtedly global, and I believed they were on the minds of young people everywhere.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
Jb: I think the wonderful thing about film is how it can be such a strong catalyst for conversation. I would love to see audiences leaving the cinema just talking about the film, what they think, how it relates to their own lives. It’d be great if they recognized their lives on the screen.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
Jb: Just deciding to make it in the first place. I got a lot of advice that making this film was a very bad move — it was too micro-budget, too uncommercial, too controversial, just too difficult. Deciding to do it anyway was probably the biggest hurdle to overcome.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
Jb: I was very fortunate that two producers who I’d worked with before believed in me and supported the film. I put in the start-up finance myself, and with some investment from them, plus a private investor, we were able to raise enough to shoot the film and get it to a watchable form so that we could seek finishing funds.
W&H: What does it mean for you to have your film play at the Toronto International Film Festival?
Jb: It’s a dream to represent these characters, these issues, this story, and our style of filmmaking on an international stage.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
Jb: Worst advice: Raise finance through product placement.
Best advice: Don’t compromise.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
Jb: Trust yourself.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
Jb: It’s a tie between “Near Dark
” by Kathryn Bigelow
and “Fish Tank
” by Andrea Arnold
. I love both these films — “Near Dark
” because it was the first film that made me realzse the gender disparity in the films I’d grown up admiring and “Fish Tank
” because it is such excellent, perfect storytelling.
W&H: There have been significant conversations over the last couple of years about increasing the amount of opportunities for women directors yet the numbers have not increased. Are you optimistic about the possibilities for change? Share any thoughts you might have on this topic.
Jb: Generally speaking, yes, I think things are changing. But these changes seem to still be privileging white women rather than women of all colors, and this is not the kind of diversity we should be fighting for.
As a white woman in the South African film industry, despite the challenges I have experienced due to gender, I have nonetheless managed to pursue my own work. However, I see that the glass ceiling remains very much a reality for many of my black colleagues — which should be unacceptable in our country.
Tiff 2017 Women Directors: Meet Jenna Bass — “High Fantasy” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.