We were so happy to be able to host the second IPO Short Film Webinar with the team from the SAFTA award-winning Address Unknown in February: Dominique Jossie (producer) and Nadine Cloete (director), hosted by the IPOs Khosie Dali from Miss K Productions.
Address Unknown was inspired by the true story of Zain Young, a former postman and resident of District Six and written by former journalist and anti-apartheid activist Anton Fisher who approached Cloete about directing the story. Cloete and Fisher met with many former District Six residents while researching for the film. Producer Dominique Jossie says: “This is the first short film set in District Six and represents our heritage as Coloured people. Although the area is now lost, through the film we have been able to bring it back. … My grandparents lived in District Six and they have shared many stories about their life there, so I am glad that I can pass these on”.
For the letters that didn’t get delivered, he had to write on them ‘address unknown’.
The postman Joey is traumatized when the apartheid government destroys his diverse community after declaring it a Whites Only area. Amidst this destruction Joey is determined to find his childhood friend Ebie.
Genre: Drama Year: 2020
Duration: 24m Audio: Afrikaans
Photography by Lindsay Appolis and Phumza Marumo
Khosie Dali: Good afternoon, everyone. I’d like to welcome you all to the second IPO Short Film Webinar. My name is Khosie Dali, I’m a producer from Cape Town. I’ve been in the industry for over 10 years now, focusing on short films, music videos and feature films. I’m also part of the IPO EXCO.
Today I’m very excited because we’re going to be joined by filmmakers from Address Unknown, which is a short film that won an award at the SAFTAS and we have two talented ladies here with us: the first is Dominique Jossie, the producer of the project.
Dominique Jossie is an award-winning filmmaker with 10 years of experience working across documentary, fictional film and television series. She studied Film, Media and Drama at the UCT in 2009. After spending three years travelling the country producing documentaries for e.tv, Dominique jumped into the world of fiction with Gambit Films when she production managed the kykNET series DANZ! in 2017.
She directed the short film Rooilug which premiered at the Silwerskerm Film Festival in August 2019 and was nominated for 8 awards including best short film and best director. Dominique then produced the SAFTA award winning short film Address Unknown and line produced the feature Barakat by Nagvlug Films. The highlight of her career was being selected as one of six writers for the first ever Realness Netflix Episodic Lab for her series concept Fafi. Dominique is currently developing a local period drama series as well as a feature film about motherhood in the digital age.
So welcome to you Dominique! And the second person who also have is the director of Address Unknown, Nadine Cloete.
Nadine Angel Cloete has an Honours Degree in Film Theory and Practice from the University of Cape Town. Her first feature documentary called Action Kommandant was released to global acclaim in 2016. Her recent short documentaries Jeannette Makes Masks and In Conversation have screened at local and international festivals such as Encounters, DIFF and the Social Justice Film Festival, USA. In 2019 Nadine branched out into fiction directing. Her works include Address Unknown and being one of four directors on the Melody series that screened on SABC. Her latest fiction work Net Ons (Just Us) will premiere at the Silwerskermfees in March 2022. Nadine is currently working with the National Film and Video Foundation to support filmmakers in non-fiction, animation content and special projects.
So I’d like to welcome these two ladies but before we delve into their stories and careers let’s look at the trailer. Watch the trailer
Dominique Jossie: First of all, thank you everyone for joining today. This is a very special project for myself and it’s one that really helped to launch our careers. It’s an honor to be sharing the story with you guys. Address Unknown was filmed in Cape Town and as you know, it is the story about the last postman of District Six, which inspired Anton Fisher who is the writer to tell a story about District Six.
Anton (left above) is a very, very special filmmaker and writer because he actually doesn’t have any previous film experience but his story is quite remarkable because he’s an anti apartheid activist and journalist in the past. He did a course in screenwriting with the NFVF a while back, wrote the script, which did quite well, and then found a way to sort of establish a company — doing all of this while working a full-time job. He managed to open up a production company and then he found Nadine and myself and we helped him to bring it all together.
The interesting thing is that tomorrow, the 11th of February is actually the anniversary of the day that the area was declared a whites-only area in 1968. So our timing is quite nice for this conversation. And yes, we did our very, very best with this project to stay as authentic as possible. What you can see here is the two lead characters, our lead character, Joey, who plays the postman with his wife, inside the house in District Six. We found this very authentic old house down the road in the area called Woodstock, which is also experiencing gentrification on quite a large scale, it happens there are about two or three rows of houses that are still very much the same as the authentic District Six houses and it’s close by to the area that was demolished.
And as you can see the spaces were quite tight, because those old homes are very, very small. If this was COVID, we would not have survived this filming situation, I actually didn’t set foot in the house, while production was taking place, I just let Nadine be there and I watched from the door. But also very special to be as you can see the walls – everything – is very much still preserved in the way that it was from back then from the 1960s. So it is a very special space to be in.
And here we have our wonderful director Nadine and I think this was such a perfect film for Nadine, because she comes from the background of Action Kommandant and I think it was just a lovely first fiction film for her and she did very well.
So this bus is really like a special thing for me, I think there’s really a thing when it comes to period films that is scary that people always tell you don’t make short films that are period films! When Anton came with the initial script, myself and a team looked at it and we thought, okay, we have to cut this, we have to cut that – no bulldozers, we have to cut these these extras, you know. And so it was very challenging, because we wanted to be authentic and give the story production value, but we also knew that we were dealing with a small budget.
We found a company that was doing vehicles for films but obviously the day rate was like 20k, it was very expensive, but luckily I got them to halve that which was still expensive! By some miracle, we managed to get this passed and I think it just made a huge difference for the production value. And also the fact that this character is essentially moving from District Six to find his friend in Bonteheuvel.
So for me, as a producer, this was a huge thing that there was no compromising this particular part of the film, so I’m very glad that we got that bus. We also had an amazing art director who really helped us to find some great pieces and help build the authenticity of the world. She also worked on Barakat after this.
I think the nice thing about this particular film with all the intricacies around the way that it was put together, is that it was a nice launching pad for a lot of the crew that we worked with, including myself as well. It was a nice sort of taster just to show what we can produce and what we are capable of achieving.
Khosie: Nadine, can you just tell us a little bit more about your background and how did Anton find you? How did you find Dominique as well?
Nadine Cloete: Yeah, so, as Dominique said, I was doing mostly documentaries. I studied film because my goal was to write, I got very passionate about writing. And then at UCT one of my lecturers said, I should go into documentary film making because the way my shorts were being formed that was being formed in a documentary style anyway. This has now become a thing to film fiction in a documentary style. But this lecturer suggested I go into documentary which was one of the best pieces of advice I ever followed because I think that documentary just opens his world for you, right?
As a young person, you have limited resources and so making documentaries was just a lot easier than going into fiction and trying to be an independent filmmaker in fiction straight off the bat. So I made a few short films, I’ve done some stuff with TV and I was researching and trying to get Action Kommandant off the ground, and then I got some funds from the National Film and Video Foundation.
Anton actually used to be part of MK, the armed wing of the ANC was actually part of the same unit as Ashley Kriel. And so because we got to know each other through that, he let me know he was working on the short film. In fact, before he wrote the script for the short film, it was a short narrative. At that stage he had already asked me to come on board, and then he went on to do the Sediba Spark course, through the NFVF. And that’s where he was matched with Tracy-Lee Rainers who is an amazing script editor. And that was kind of the start of Address Unknown.
Khosie: And did you have a relationship before the story? Or did you meet on the project?
Nadine: We had met before but I think more socially, this was our very first time working together and, and things just clicked. And one of the things that I appreciate about Dominique is the freedom and the trust, like I feel I’m working with somebody who totally trusts me. And that gives me the confidence to be my best.
A lot of producers like to to kind of work with a hierarchical structure, I think that impacts you as a creator. So working with somebody who was giving us absolute trust and confidence and it being my first time… Dominique was also giving that extra creative input, you know: “…try this, try that”. So I think working with a creative producer really brings the extra layers to the project.
Khosie: Yeah, it really does does make a huge difference, because you can focus more on your art and your creativity. And then also, as filmmakers, can you just tell me, what is the importance of storytelling? Why should the audience watch this film? Why is it important to you, for the community, and what was the impact on the community?
Nadine: For Address Unknown, it was important, you know, it’s always important that people see themselves. And also I think it’s important about authenticity, right? I read this quote recently by Ava DuVernay, which I quite liked, she was talking about interpretation versus reflection, right. So what you’re actually doing is reflecting your communities, because if you if you’re not aware of the space to base it on, all you can do is interpretation. For a long time, I was saying, oh, my work is an interpretation, but it’s not really because you’re so soaked into kind of the core of the story and what’s happening, and it’s personal as well. So it really is a reflection of that. And I think that’s the importance of this particular story.
Khosie: I’d like now to hear from both of you, Dominique as a producer and Nadine as a director. How does this project fit into your careers overall? What’s the importance of it in your career going forward?
Dominique: I just want to add that my grandfather actually grew up in District Six and I find a lot of people in the community had family from there as well. And we are always talking about it in our families, but we’ve never had an opportunity to visualize it before. And so that’s why this film is so so important. I think that that is one of the key crucial reasons why I jumped on board the project as well.
In terms of what it’s done for our careers. I think, for me, as a storyteller as a filmmaker, and producer specifically, I learned so much. I always say you learn way more on the ground when you have to be the hands-on. This is the first project where I really got to build relationships with gear houses, that really came on board for us, like in a big way and with crew members that I now have long-lasting relationships with.
I feel like we’ve built a unit of support that can really see us through in the emerging phases of our career. So that when you get to the feature films and the big things, they will still be there to support you and I think that’s the key thing about producing, right. It’s all about the relationships that you create. And then of course, there’s the Showmax thing and once that happens it’s on your CV and that helps a lot.
Khosie: And Dominique, did you picture that happening?
Dominique: Not at all, it’s just your movie and just another project. But it was actually really big. And since this project, a lot of my future work, or something I’m working on now feeds off very similar themes: historical and I think with the same point. We kind of found our voice through this project as well as storytellers.
Khosie: What do you say, Nadine, from the director’s perspective?
Nadine: Look, it was my very first fiction project, right. And coming from documentary into fiction, yeah, it was very overwhelming. Bigger crew, 30-40 people asking you questions! Trying to be prepared as possible as a director, that was really something new. And, um, luckily, I was also working with the DOP that I had worked on a documentary before so we already had a communication language.
Of course it was my very first time working with actors and these were great actors to to work with. I was watching a lot of directors’ interviews on on the internet, but I do think you bring something special if you’re moving from documentary into fiction, because I’ve watched a documentary called The Last Supper in Horsley Street, it’s directed by Lyndi Wilson. And she is filming with the very last family to leave District Six. So she filmed the intimate conversations, you know, when the trucks come and all of that. It’s so sad and so powerful at the same time, and I actually called her up, and there’s some dialogue in Address Unknown that is exactly the same as what is in the documentary. She gave us permission to do that, which I think is amazing. And as you know, as preparation the whole cost watched that documentary. I think it gave us a sense of purpose watching that film.
Yeah, so a lot of lessons because from Address Unknown, I went directly into being one of the four directors on Melody on SABC and if I didn’t have that space I would have totally been lost on a television series. So yeah, I think Address Unknown was great preparation for future work.
Khosie: I know as a filmmaker myself, you’re always excited when a script comes in but thereafter it’s another ballgame! So I just want to know more about the challenges that you faced. I want to know about working with the children I want to know about the community themselves. I want to know about the spaces, tell me about the funding. Negotiating between all the suppliers… Tell us more about the challenges and how you actually overcame.
Dominique: So this film was funded by the NFVF and partially crowd funding, which Anton managed to do with by contacting past residents of District Six which was quite clever and then the rest of it was all, you know, gear houses, like I said, and people that came on board to assist us. So I don’t think he would have been able to pull this off without that type of assistance because our monetary budget – I just looked at it now again – was R260 000 over three days, which is actually quite tight.
All of our equipment came from Panavision and Refinery assisted with post production. People came in with reasonably good rates as well because they really believed in this project and wanted to make it happen. And then we worked with the community quite closely. So extras were from the community, even the actors outside of the main actors from the community, even the locations. We went to very specific locations and it was really all about negotiating and selling the dream of the fim to everyone that really helped us push through.
One of the big things that I really also realized is that when it comes to cash flow on short films, it’s a very difficult thing because you only get paid from the NFVF according to your deliverables. At the same time you need to pay your crew or the deposits and so as this project was under Anton’s company, we had to cash flow the project without having any funds in the bank, which is a hard thing, especially for smaller companies, or people that are starting out.
You think you can got this amazing funding, you know, but at the end of the day, you still need to meet certain deadlines long before the actual cash will come in. So you might have a budget, but the timing of everything is super, super important. And then things like insurance are super critical. You need insurance for everything, like especially even if it’s a short film, it’s so so so important.
Things that really saved us was also the last day we almost ran out of time in Bonteheuvel. But our AD Roxanne quickly just said, okay, we’re not going to drive back to town anymore. We can do the scenes right here, right now. It was literally invaluable! At seven o’clock at night, we were outside delapidated, broken-down house and did the scene where the letters bburn in the drum. Then we didn’t need to drive like back and forth and it’s easy.
Obviously we didn’t actually have a unit team but we made sure that we booked community halls and community spaces – again giving back to the community and finding an affordable place for us to just hold our actors and extras. Our one community hall was actually used as the post office as well.
Nadine: So working with child actors in the flashback sequences was quite fun. I think they were just running around and they got what we were trying to do. And the AD also worked quite well with getting them ready. I think the main challenge was the young girl as it was her first time on set and you know it can get very overwhelming and scary with these cameras and people and so many voices and her parents were in the room right? She had to not look at the camera or a her mother in the room and it was very challenging! I think lesson is to use an older child that looks younger as you don’t want to push your child too hard for and then not being able to salvage the scene at all.
Khosie: So talking about cast, where did you find the cast? Did you use casting agencies?
Nadine: We had meetings rather than casting calls. We did have actors in mind and we just met up with them and chatted about the project, many of our decisions were made on if we felt tthere’s something about them or the energy of this person matches the characters, how we see the character? So that’s really how people were cast. Our actors are Stefan Erasmus, Bianca Flanders and Irshaan Alley actually came on last minute but it was really exciting to work with them. And of course Noel Oostendorp who is an actor but he came in on this project as a dialogue coach. So that was a very good tool to have on the project. The script is in Afrikaans but languages are spoken in different ways in every city that you go, and there are all the different accents everywhere that you go. So we really wanted to stay true to the sounds of the time. We had quite a few sessions working with the actors and it was quite an interesting process because our sessions weren’t very acting-intensive, you know reading scripts, acting, visiting locations and blocking, it was more about the functions of the scenes, talking about the history of District Six, watching the documentary and breaking things down after that. It was more an emotive process, but that is what it needed, that’s what it’s called for. I think.
Khosie: Maybe you can tell me what’s next on both your slates?
Nadine: We were lucky to work together again and we have something coming out on Silwerskerm in March called Net Ons.
Dominique: The people that we work with are the glue: people that I still work with, and I’ve worked with this past weekend. We don’t know about the future of Address Unknown as a bigger project but I think that there’s definitely space for having a bigger District Six project. I always had this dream of like rebuilding and using green screen and you know I think that’s what it’s going to need because we had to be so selective of our shot framing process because there’s satellite dishes on all the homes and we had to pay attention to details outside because everything you’re passing in the bus is modern. So we needed to make sure that there wasn’t anything modern because I think when it comes to production value, it’s the detail that can really throw you off in in most ultimately, everything is modern in the background. You need to keep your audience in the world.
Khosie: I’ve got a question here about working with child actors, what is the legislation?
Dominique: There’s definitely a limited amount of time that you can work with them. If they’re not with the parents, they need to have like a child minder, which you can also hire as well, or a chaperone. And we have to log those hours and provide the details to the Labor Office. There are definitely very strict laws around that so I would advise you look into this. We had the parents on set and it was a short film and you know we kind of managed to just do it differently, but particularly with bigger projects you should always follow those rules.
Khosie: Yeah, exactly. And there’s all different timelines for the different ages so you have different durations that they can be on set and also off set.
We also have a question from Francis: The NFVF submission deadline is tomorrow. Do you have any advice for writing team submitting for development funding, and also when is the right time to approach a producer with an idea for short?
Nadine: Get it in on time! (laughs) I’m not here speaking in my NFVF capacity but really please get it in today and if you have problems you can reach out to the team. If you’re starting tomorrow, chances are very slim then. I know you are looking for a content response but the best thing I can say now is take the time to get it in on time.
Khosie: I’d also like to add that like when you have any kind of submission or deadline, to just make sure you’ve got all the requirements written down. And start with the easy stuff like getting your certified ID and then you focus on all the difficult parts and ask the questions way ahead in advance, you know, not half an hour before the deadline!
Dominique: I’ve also done applications and some some went well, some didn’t. Well, you know, but just make sure that you’ve covered all your bases.
The one thing about approaching producers, I think the very important thing is to find producers that have synergy with you and what your story is because it’s good to approach producers with a great story, but to me any projects that I take on, it’s got to speak to me as a storyteller. I’m not going to just do it for a job. If I feel it doesn’t speak to me, I will put the person in touch with another producer that it will work better for.
And it’s best to go with not just an idea, have something already on paper. If you don’t have a script, at least have a synopsis or one pager just so that the person who you are pitching to or approaching has a clear sense that you know what the story is. The more materials you have, the better.
Khosie: We have a question from Delvico for Nadine: What was your overall objective and drive when you make creative choices preparing and going into directing the film?
Nadine: My goal and my drive is to understand the subtext of the story, Anton had written it of course and now I need to present tthat stry in the best way, to not always hit the nail on the head and to show in terms of action, dialogue or camera movement. How do we drive the subtext in this moment? The script really allowed one to do that and that was my goal, how best to communicate subtext, how do we feel something instead of saying, so show don’t tell. I was very influenced at the time by Ava Duvernay’s series When they see us and that had a profound effect on me. Her work really influenced some of my visual references for this film and there is actually a visual homage to When they see us with the trumpet player in Address Unknown.
Khosie: Trish has also asked what was your biggest learning on this project that you’d like to share with the audience?
Dominique: The power of relationships is something that I will carry with me to all the work that I do, the relationships that we build from the start with people because that’s what this industry is advanced by working together. Film making is not a solo thing, no one is more important than the other and it’s good to make people feel like they are part of something great and big. That’s something that I like to take with me on to every project that I step onto. I think that the future is bright for our stories to be told, you know, it’s really It’s time now.
Khosie: There’s another important question from Selborne: How did you approach Showmax and why did you need a film distributor?
Dominique: So we didn’t have a distributor for the film specifically, but we entered into DIFF and Black Star Film Festival and you really need to be very specific about the festivals that you target because you can’t just send a film to just any festival. We got in in some cases and also got rejected by some festivals because it wasn’t the right fit. So it’s very important to research festivals and see which one is best so that your film can be seen by streamers or channels. That’s how we got on Showmax was through DIFF. We didn’t necessarily have a distributor on board at the start of the project.
Khosie: Would you say that it’s important to think about distributing when you start a project, or is it something you can just like: ah, I’ll think about it when I’m done producing.
Dominique: Distribution for short film is a tricky one but there is an opening up and streamers are buying a lot more short films than two or three years ago. But I think if you can get a distributor onboard upfront before you even make your film, let them sign a paper to say we like this film, we’re going to put it on our slate — that gives you power to raise funds for your production. And then you automatically have distribution afterwards. So it’s definitely something that must be thought of upfront.
Khosie: Just to add on to that, it’s so important to start with them at the beginning as a distributor can also share so much knowledge and so much experience. They can read your film and shift it in a way that they know will make sense to the audience and they will direct you to the right platforms to show your film.
I’ve got Nelson here and he’s saying I would like to know the process of IP when it comes to projects that were funded and sponsored by companies such as NFVF?
Nadine: So, you know that’s one of the perks of getting funding from the National Film and Video Foundation is that IP remains with you. Of course when you start speaking to broadcasters and so on, those things tend to shift. But I also want to just add to the previous conversation, I think what shows the popularity of shorts is that they are sometimes funded as a collection or anthology so you’d have a theme and then people produce films around that like film about COVID or the NFVF’s call recently about Unsung Heroes where ten films are being made on that theme.
You should think about where you want to pitch your career at ecause my first short film Miseducation got into a festival in the States way back and they stayed in touch and that worked for me as Action Kommandant went on to have its world premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival. And then Action Kommandant screened at the Blackstar International Film Festival and that’s where Address Unknown had its world premiere. So they like to keep in touch and it is a way of getting yourself out there and building relationships.
Khosie: Where would you advise someone like myself to start off in documentary filmmaking? I’m a young writer who has worked in different industries like magazines, even without having any university, but I have found there are so many barriers to entry.
Nadine: Yeah, I’d advise you to do your first short documentary. Whether you’re getting support from the DFA or being active in spaces like Afridocs, look out for calls, apply for NFVF and then push for international funds and so on. Maybe also good to make contact with the DFA as they have older filmmakers who can mentor – I think that’s so important. But really, get started with your with your short doc. I’m going to punt the NFVF as a place to go for funds but only because you will maintain your ownership and also if you are applying for development you will be allocated a story mentor to guide you through the making of your first short film.
Khosie: Dominique, how did you manage the crew and the film’s schedules? How did you make sure that whatever you plan for actually works in production?
Dominique: I think scheduling is such an important thing and sometimes you have to cut a script down or change if it doesn’t work for the schedule. So one piece of advice that I give is around locations: do not try and put in a lot of locations in a short form. It’s just really time you spend traveling from place to place, that you lose to actually shoot. For example sometimes I had to combine two rooms that were right next to each other. No, we’re gonna shoot both the scenes in this room. We’re going to change it up like this, you have to think on your feet. The more you can plan before the time, the better. Learning to think on your feet is important and allowing you access to also adjust to those circumstances and if you do it confidently then everyone else will feel at ease you know?
Nadine: You know, I think your producer is always the go-to if you’re feeling overwhelmed. And my AD said as the director you are also allowed to have some moments to yourself. You know, sometimes we give full access to the director, it’s important, but it was also great to have somebody tell me that you are allowed to say you know I need a minute.
Khosie: You are both wonderful! Thank you for sharing your journeys, we are inspired and surely we can say congratulations to both of you. This has been so exciting. And I feel like you really touched on a lot of important points: punctuality, storytelling, production funding and that working together or synergy is very important.
As soon as people have friction, or don’t gel well, it’s very easy to see that in the execution of the production. And once you have everyone coming along together, it’s really amazing. Dominique, I like how you make sure you take care of the cast and crew and the community, give back and make sure that they feel like they did something that was valuable. I want to hear more about your journey moving forward, and I’m wishing you both the best of luck. Thank you everyone for joining!