As producer Michael Auret gets ready for the reception of his latest two films, Die Stropers (Harvester) and An Act of Defiance at this month’s Silwerskerm Fees, he is celebrating a decade as the head of Spier Films, the Cape originated film finance and production house. Under Auret’s stewardship, Spier has made twenty films that have helped re-shape the South African film landscape, proving that local stories can travel and hold their own in the international film festival world and market place.
Spier hit the international limelight with their very first foray into film production, U- Carmen Ekhayelitsha, which won a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2005. This was followed up with Son of Manwhich was in competition at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006.
Auret, who was heading up the ambitious film market Sithengi at the time, was headhunted by Spier and joined in 2008. He took on the company’s vision and proved true to it, continuing the company’s interest in film adaptations of theatre works with Master Harold and The Boys. Over time he created European partnerships that could help create a sustainable model for creating viable, quality South African made films that could excel both critically and commercially in the local and international market place.
Under his stewardship the company returned to Berlin in 2013 with Layla Fourie which garnered a Jury Special Mention in competition, they returned to Sundance with the 2014 premiere of Young Ones, which was shot in the Northern Cape. Festival attention continued when Spier hit the red carpet in the Official Selection at Cannes twice with a gala midnight screening of Kristian Levering’s robust western reboot The Salvation which recreated the American west on the Highveld, and Die Stropers, Etienne Kallos’s Free State set gothic drama which premiered in Un Certain Regard this year and is in competition at Silwerskerm.
Spier have been in competition at Silwerskerm before, with Paul Eiler’s scorching Boer war drama Verraaiers. The movie picked up five awards including a jury prize, best actor and the audience choice award in 2012.
A year later in 2013, Spier produced one of South Africa’s most controversial films, Jahmil X. T. Qubeka’s riveting, expressionistic look at child-abuse Of Good Report. The film was banned, premiered at Toronto Film Festival to acclaim becoming an international festival hit. Eventually it was unbanned and went on to win five SAFTA’s including Best Film and Best Director in 2014.
The company previously swept the board at a SAFTA ceremony in 2011 with the Ingrid Jonker biopic Black Butterflies winning six awards including Best Film. The movie went on to win in Tribeca, Taormina and Golden Calf for Best Film at the Nederlands Film Festival.
Continuing from the success of Of Good Report, Spier collaborated with director Qubeka last year for the afrofuturist short Stillborn, commissioned as part of an anthology made by five directors each representing a BRICS country. Produced by Jia Zhang-ke, this film opened the 2017 BRICS International Film Festival in Chengdu, China and won best short at this year’s Durban International Film Festival. Love Jacked, released on Valentines Day, was part of a strategy to make black films for the US and South African market primarily, but are designed to cross over as they are fun romantic comedies.
Part of Spier’s modus operandi can be gleaned from what Auret’s producing partner Lwazi Manzi told City Press at Cannes after a successful screening of The Harvesters, that the representation of Africa in film is grossly disproportionate considering the African population in the world. The onus is on us to demand inclusion in the international film industry. To that end Spier was approached to invest in Khumba, Triggerfish Animation’s Zebra movie that premiered in Cannes and sold to the world
Over a decade Auret has helped Spier achieve its aim to succeed in making a successful business out of the production of great stories for cinema and TV. He thinks being involved has been a gift, saying, “It has been our goal at Spier Films to provide a legal, financial and creative platform from which great films in any language, can be launched. We are proud of the fact that we launched the only the Xhosa language films to make it internationally with U-Carmen eKhayelitsha (Golden Bear , Berlin 2005), Son of Man (Sundance 2006) and Of Good Report (TIFF 20014) and similarly we are proud to have been instrumental in the making of great Afikaans films like, Die Stropers/The Harvesters, An Act of Defiance and Verraaiers while also telling the stories of great Afrikaners like Ingrid Jonker (SAFTA Best Film 2012).”